Rainwater has been found all over the planet to contain dangerous amounts of man-made “forever chemicals” linked to cancer and other diseases, a study finds.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have many applications, including in firefighting foam, the non-stick coating on frying pans and textiles.
They are thought to be released into the environment through industrial emissions, packaging transfers, wastewater and evaporation of the foams.
Researchers from Stockholm University and ETH Zurich have conducted laboratory and field work on the presence and transport of PFAS over the past decade.
They claim to be found in rainwater and snow even in the most remote locations on Earth, such as Antarctica and Tibet.
The fluorinated chemicals have been linked to a wide variety of human health problems, including cancer, immune system disorders, obesity and fertility problems.
The researchers discovered PFAS in the rainwater and snow, even in the most remote locations on Earth, such as Antarctica and Tibet (pictured)
Levels of (A) PFOA, (B) PFOS and (C) PFAAs (PFOA + PFNA + PFHxS + PFOS) in wet deposits collected at various global locations from 2010 to present
WHAT ARE PFAS?
PFAS are man-made chemicals used as oil and water repellents and coatings for common products including cookware, carpets and textiles.
These endocrine-disrupting chemicals don’t break down when released into the environment, and they continue to build up over time.
PFAS chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies near facilities where the chemicals are used.
PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities as well as military bases and firefighting training facilities where foam containing PFAS is used.
They also enter the food supply through food packaging materials and contaminated soil.
PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ due to their extreme persistence in the environment – some taking over a thousand years to break down.
The major chemical company 3M began manufacturing the two most infamous members of the PFAS family, PFOS and PFOA, in the 1950s.
Many scientific tests over the decades have shown that the chemicals caused multiple health problems, and by 2002 3M had largely banned them.
In the past 20 years, knowledge about the toxicity of PFAS has grown steadily, and as a result the guideline values of PFAS in drinking water, surface water and soil have decreased.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now recommends a safe PFOA concentration of 0.004 nanograms per liter (ng/L); EU environmental quality standards require PFOS to be 0.65 ng/L, while US EPA suggests 0.020 ng/L for PFOS; and the Danish drinking water guideline for four PFAAs (PFOA + PFNA + PFHxS + PFOS) is 2 ng/L.
Despite this, the researchers found that the levels of some harmful PFAS in the atmosphere did not decrease appreciably.
This is due to their degradation time, as well as the natural processes that continually return them to the atmosphere from the surface environment.
One of the most important natural cycle processes for PFAS is the transport of seawater to sea air by means of sea spray.
Professor Ian Cousins, the study’s lead author, said; “The drinking water guideline for one known substance in the PFAS class, the carcinogenic perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), has dropped 37.5 million times in the US
“Based on the latest US guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater would be considered unsafe to drink everywhere.
“Although we don’t often drink rainwater in the industrial world, many people around the world expect it to be safe to drink and it provides many of our drinking water resources.”
The major chemical company 3M began manufacturing the two most infamous members of the PFAS family, PFOS and PFOA, in the 1950s. Many scientific tests over the decades have shown that the chemicals caused multiple health problems, and by 2002 they had been largely banned. Over the past 20 years, knowledge about the toxicity of PFAS has continued to increase, leading to a drop in the guideline values of PFAS in drinking water, surface water and soil.
Pollution from four different PFAS was found to exceed recommended levels in Europe and the US.
These findings, published in Environmental Science and Technologythe authors concluded that a ‘planetary boundary’ has been crossed – there is no place on Earth where the substances can be avoided.
The researchers therefore suggest that PFAS use and emissions are “rapidly reduced” because the chemicals have poor reversibility.
Study co-author Professor Martin Scheringer said: ‘The extreme persistence and continued global cycling of certain PFAS will lead to the continued exceedance of the above guidelines.
“So now, due to the global spread of PFAS, environmental media everywhere will exceed environmental quality guidelines designed to protect human health and we can do very little to reduce PFAS contamination.
“In other words, it makes sense to define a planetary boundary specifically for PFAS and, as we conclude in the article, this boundary has now been crossed.”
Women exposed to PFAS used in takeaway and non-stick pans ‘may go through menopause two years earlier’
Exposure to a type of man-made chemicals could trigger menopause in women two years earlier, a new study warns.
University of Michigan researchers found that high levels of PFAS in blood samples contributed to earlier menopause in women.
PFAS, which is used as oil and water repellents and coatings for consumer products, can enter water sources and interfere with ovarian function, they say.
Commonly used in food packaging, cookware and industrial foam, the chemicals disrupt the endocrine system — the hormone-producing collection of glands that regulate sexual function.
Last studies they have also been linked to infertility, behavioral problems, birth defects, high cholesterol, and even cancer
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