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The Quick 10: 10 Places You Don't Want to Swim

With the high temperatures lately, my neighbor has made a habit of taking midday dips in the kiddie pool in her backyard. (I know this because she sings with the radio and splashes water in rhythm.) Speaking of places I never want to swim, here are ten lakes, pools, and beaches you should approach with caution.

1. Nyriragongo Crater's lava lake

[Photo Credit: Olivier Grunewald]

282 million cubic feet of molten rock won't make for a pleasant game of Marco Polo, but you can probably roast a marshmallow from several hundred yards. The world's largest permanent lava lake rests in one of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga range of Africa. Last year, a team of scientists and explorers survived a journey to the rim of the lake, which is detailed here in a stunning photo essay.

2. Just about any body of water in China

Heavy traffic (both on roads and waterways), industrial pollution, and uncontrolled fertilizer use have contributed to a national water crisis in China. Nearly every major lake and river in the country is currently experiencing toxic green-blue algae bloom. Greenpeace tested waters in 25 regions and found 20 of the samples too high in nitrogen and nitrates to be safe for human use. In fact, the concentrations were so high that the water can't even be used for watering plants or industrial purposes.

3. Lake Karachay, home of the most polluted water on Earth

In Soviet Russia, lake contaminate you. From 1951 until 1968, this small lake in the Ural Mountains was used as a toxic dump site for Mayak, a nuclear waste storage and processing facility. Between 1978 and 1986, the lake was filled with concrete blocks to prevent the shifting of irradiated sediment. In 1990, the radiation level measured more than high enough to deliver a lethal dose to a human within an hour.

4. Any exploding lake

There are only three known exploding lakes in the world: Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Lakes Monoun and Nyos in Cameroon. Created by a dam of volcanic rock, this type of lake lies atop a pool of magma that releases carbon dioxide and methane into the water. On occasion, a large pocket of toxic gas will "explode" from the water (a limnic eruption); this happened in 1984 at Lake Monoun, killing 37 people, and again in 1986 at Lake Nyos, suffocating 1700 people and 3500 livestock.

5. Berkeley Pit, a hole filled with arsenic

Formerly an open-pit copper mine, the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana, is filled with acidic, highly oxygenated water that leaches heavy metals from the surrounding rock. The Superfund list of contaminants is arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc, and lead. In 1995, a flock of 342 geese was found dead in the Pit with burns from the water in their internal organs.

6. Laguna Caliente, the pool of sulfuric acid

Volcanoes do crazy things to water. With a pH as low as "slightly below zero," Laguna Caliente (situated in the summit crater of Poás Volcano) is probably the most acidic body of water on the planet. The rain that falls around the area has a pH of 2.0 on average.

7. Lake Vostok, the subglacial window to exoplanetary life

Back in January, Ransom Riggs shared a cool post on Lake Vostok, an oligotropic subglacial lake under the Antarctic. Information collected from ice cores will reveal whether life has survived in isolation for 15 to 24 million years and the probability of life in subsurface water on other planets. Even if scientists discover ice-loving fish below, you can't swim there—the average water temperature is calculated to be -3ºC.

8. Boiling Lake in Dominica. It boils.

Featured in the Angry Planet episode, "Across the Boiling Lake," the flooded fumarole's shore temperature is between 185 and 197ºF, but the central area of the lake hasn't been measured because no one can get there safely. It can be clearly observed that the water is actively boiling, however, so showing off your sweet cannonball skills is probably a bad idea.

9. The Amazon Basin

Even Hank Hill's narrow urethra wouldn't save him from the candiru (or toothpick fish) native to Amazonian waters. Though formal experimentation shows the fish is not attracted to urine (as previously believed), it is in fact small enough to, uh, invade a person. One such incident was documented in 1997; the "River Monsters" episode of Animal Planet investigated the claim, which was fully verified.

10. The Northern and Eastern beaches of Australia

Remember the scene in Finding Nemo when Marlin and Dory are in the jellyfish field? That's a slightly exaggerated idea of what the coastal waters of Australia are like, except these are lethal box jellyfish (and blue-ringed octopus, cone shells, scorpion fish, crocodiles, and sting rays) and you're not an animated fish.

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History
How an Early Female Travel Writer Became an Immunization Pioneer
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a British aristocrat, feminist, and writer who was famed for her letters. If that were all she did, she would be a slightly obscure example of a travel writer and early feminist. But she was also an important public health advocate who is largely responsible for the adoption of inoculation against smallpox—one of the earliest forms of immunization—in England.

Smallpox was a scourge right up until the mid-20th century. Caused by two strains of Variola virus, the disease had a mortality rate of up to 35 percent. If you lived, you were left with unsightly scars, and possible complications such as severe arthritis and blindness.

Lady Montagu knew smallpox well: Her brother died of it at the age of 20, and in late 1715, she contracted the disease herself. She survived, but her looks did not; she lost her eyelashes and was left with deeply pitted skin on her face.

When Lady Montagu’s husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed ambassador to Turkey the year after her illness, she accompanied him and took up residence in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The lively letters she wrote home described the world of the Middle East to her English friends and served for many as an introduction to Muslim society.

One of the many things Lady Montagu wrote home about was the practice of variolation, a type of inoculation practiced in Asia and Africa likely starting around the 15th or 16th century. In variolation, a small bit of a pustule from someone with a mild case of smallpox is placed into one or more cuts on someone who has not had the disease. A week or so later, the person comes down with a mild case of smallpox and is immune to the disease ever after.

Lady Montagu described the process in a 1717 letter:

"There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox: they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nuts-hell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch), and puts into the vein as much matter as can lye upon the head of her needle, and after that binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell; and in this manner opens four or five veins. . . . The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day, and are in perfect health to the eighth. Then the fever begins to seize them, and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three. They have very rarely above twenty or thirty in their faces, which never mark; and in eight days' time they are as well as before their illness."

So impressed was Lady Montagu by the effectiveness of variolation that she had a Scottish doctor who worked at the embassy, Charles Maitland, variolate her 5-year-old son in 1718 with the help of a local woman. She returned to England later that same year. In 1721, a smallpox epidemic hit London, and Montagu had Maitland (who by then had also returned to England) variolate her 4-year-old daughter in the presence of several prominent doctors. Maitland later ran an early version of a clinical trial of the procedure on six condemned inmates in Newgate Prison, who were promised their freedom if they took part in the experiment. All six lived, and those later exposed to smallpox were immune. Maitland then repeated the experiment on a group of orphaned children with the same results.

A painting of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Jean-Baptiste Vanmour, Art UK // CC BY-NC-ND

But the idea of purposely giving someone a disease was not an easy sell, especially since about 2 or 3 percent of people who were variolated still died of smallpox (either because the procedure didn’t work, or because they caught a different strain than the one they had been variolated with). In addition, variolated people could also spread the disease while they were infectious. Lady Montagu also faced criticism because the procedure was seen as “Oriental,” and because of her gender.

But from the start, Lady Montagu knew that getting variolation accepted would be an uphill battle. In the same letter as her first description of the practice, she wrote:

"I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England; and I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue for the good of mankind. But that distemper is too beneficial to them, not to expose to all their resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it. Perhaps, if I live to return, I may, however, have courage to war with them."

As promised, Lady Montagu promoted variolation enthusiastically, encouraging the parents in her circle, visiting convalescing patients, and publishing an account of the practice in a London newspaper. Through her influence, many people, including members of the royal family, were inoculated against smallpox, starting with two daughters of the Princess of Wales in 1722. Without her advocacy, scholars say, variolation might never have caught on and smallpox would have been an even greater menace than it was. The famed poet Alexander Pope said that for her, immortality would be "a due reward" for "an action which all posterity may feel the advantage of," namely the "world’s being freed from the future terrors of the small-pox."

Variolation was performed in England for another 70 years, until Edward Jenner introduced vaccination using cowpox in 1796. Vaccination was instrumental in finally stopping smallpox: In 1980, it became the first (and so far, only) human disease to be completely eradicated worldwide.

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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
iStock
iStock

What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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