Why Are 96,000,000 Black Balls on This Reservoir?

Why Are 96,000,000 Black Balls on This Reservoir?

I took a boat through 96 million black plastic balls on the Los Angeles reservoir to find out why they’re there. The first time I heard about shade balls the claim was they reduce evaporation. But it turns out this isn’t the reason they were introduced.

Huge thanks to LADWP for arranging this special tour for me. Next time let’s put the GoPro on the submersible!

The balls are made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) which is less dense than water so they float on the surface of the reservoir even if they break apart. They are 10cm (4 inches) in diameter and contain about 210ml of water. So the main reason they are on the reservoir is to block sunlight from entering the water and triggering a chemical reaction that turns harmless bromide into carcinogenic bromate. This effect occurs with prolonged exposure to bromate so regulators insist that levels be kept below 10 microgram per liter on average over a 12 month period.

Special thanks to Patreon supporters:
Donal Botkin, Michael Krugman, Ron Neal, Stan Presolski, Terrance Shepherd, Penward Rhyme and everyone who provided feedback on an early draft of this video.

Thanks to:
Las Virgenes Reservoir for footage of initial shade ball dump
Euro-Matic for bird into jet-engine footage

Researched and Produced by Casey Rentz

Animations by Maria Raykova

Music from http://epidemicsound.com “Colorful Animation 4” “Seaweed”

And from Kevin MacLeod “Marty Gots a Plan”

This is an educational video about the science of water quality.

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73 Responses

  1. D Hawthorne says:

    I always thought it was for algae control, the evaporation thing made no sense to me either. As for stopping a light catalyzed reaction that resulted in a harmful byproduct, I would have never guessed.

    • James says:

      Why would the evaporation thing make no sense tho cause even if it does get hotter the water has no where to go because it’s covered by the balls

    • Unique Mystique says:

      This nerdy comment gives me life ??

    • ScottCantDance says:

      Well, California just discovered that they have uranium, thorium, some other radioactive compounds in their drinking water.
      They’re saying that drinking it over the course of a lifetime will cause cancer.
      Wall off California.

    • krap101 says:

      +ScottCantDance California is known to cause cancer in the state of California

  2. Dapper Dinkum says:

    Well.. I guess it’s quite a ballsy thing to risk going out in that water….

    I’ll show myself out now

  3. WarziKage says:

    Perfect video. Clearly stated problem and it’s effects, proper exhaustion of options, proper explanation of solutions and their benefits. Brilliant

  4. w0ttheh3ll says:

    1:00 is it safe to drive a gasoline-engine boat through a drinking water reservoir?

  5. Caipirinha ! says:

    That reservoir looks like
    Giant caviar tin wide open

  6. Fendoroid says:

    Each nine year old brought one black ball.

  7. Im.Puk says:

    That’s the nicest, enthusiastic and knowledgeable Executive i’ve seen in a company.

  8. GiacomodellaSvezia says:

    Thinking out of the box gets a new meaning.
    Just wondering: Has there been a check wether there are microscopic particles of plastic in the water coming out of the reservoir?

    • Julian Adams says:

      GiacomodellaSvezia They said it’s made out of food grade plastic covered in a special material that lets it last up to ten years without degrading in the elements

    • THCRMSNCHN says:

      Besides that, the balls are made of food grade plastic so there is no risk of toxicity.

    • GiacomodellaSvezia says:

      Chemical toxicity isn’t the only threat of plastics in the environment: Many animals die because of the amount of plastic parts that fill up their stomachs. I don’t know what possible risks there might be with having plastic particles in one’s body, but it’s unnatural. Evolution hasn’t had time to cope with it: they remain in organisms that can’t digest them or get rid of them otherwise. There are bacteria that can digest plastics, but they are not part of intestinal flora.
      Also: the environment is constantly polluted with more plastic particles as water treatment facilities have no way to get them out of the water that’s treated (anyone’s guess how much water flows into the sea untreated worldwide).
      Also nice to know: Someone told me today that we breathe in plastic particles (a.k.a. particulate matter) as wind carries it along to every corner of the globe.

    • THCRMSNCHN says:

      +GiacomodellaSvezia I may be wrong but if the particles are microscopic then I would expect them to simply pass through the digestive system, even if they were not actually digested. Obviously large chunks of anything nondigestible carries some risk of getting caught in an animal’s stomach, but that’s not what we were talking about.

    • GiacomodellaSvezia says:

      Let’s hope you’re right. There’s very much we still don’t know on this subject, as it’s escaped attention for so long.

  9. C M says:

    How to get the cool kids interested in chemistry: BROMATE
    Steve Buscemi: How do you do, fellow Bromates.

  10. Sardaukar2611 says:

    I remember a professor mocking this idea in a polymer science lecture some time ago, because of the evaporation thing. Another example to get all info before making hasty conclusions.
    This is brilliant.

    • Wolfz 2: Electric Boogaloo says:

      +Unknown You’re just sad because how low your natural t levels are. It aint the water that’s doing it pal.

    • Coeleomic08 says:

      +Unknown Russia uses lots of food grade plastic ? You seem to be obsessed with de-masculation. That’s also a Russian thing.

    • Unknown says:

      +Wolfz 2: Electric Boogaloo Yes it is. I’ve just posted links. Don’t doubt me again.

  11. Eduard Dauti says:

    5:51 watch the bird get sucked into the engine of the plane and come out the back shredded

  12. Waffle_ Gamer264 says:

    I want to scuba dive down there with a few waterproof flashlights to see how dark it is down there.

  13. Kakyoin Noriaki says:

    I swear I’ve seen this video before

  14. Perrin Dudeck says:

    Wow. LA’s water is literally a carcinogen if it’s exposed to light wtf. That actually explains a lot tbh.

  15. TheBigVeganGiant says:

    1:00: “are they safe to have on drinking water?” *Drives a gas filled boat on a reservoir

  16. Tushar Sukraj says:

    5:51 1 like = 1 prayer for the bird’s family.

  17. Brandon Dye says:

    Lady on the boat: I’m just waiting for you to say it looks like boba.

  18. Memerboi11 says:

    “what? bromite is evolving!”
    “congratulations! your bromite evolved into a bromate!”

  19. Lewis says:

    > Veritasium: Why are they black?

    > Youtube: Demonetized.

  20. Ary says:

    Don’t wanna watch it all ? I gotcha
    Cost: 10:05
    What’s this for ? : 3:01
    Evaporation: 8:57

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