Forever chemicals in rainwater
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made hazardous chemicals spread globally in the atmosphere and can be found in rainwater and snow in even the most remote locations on Earth
During the last 20 years, guideline values for PFAS in drinking water, surface waters and soils have decreased dramatically owing to new insights into their toxicity.
“There has been an astounding decline in guideline values for PFAS in drinking water in the last 20 years. For example, the drinking water guideline value for one well known substance in the PFAS class, namely the cancer-causing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), has declined by 37.5 million times in the US,” said Ian Cousins, lead author of a new study and professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University.
Researchers from Stockholm University and ETH Zurich suggest that PFAS define a new planetary boundary for novel entities that has been exceeded. “Based on the latest US guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be judged unsafe to drink. Although in the industrial world we don’t often drink rainwater, many people around the world expect it to be safe to drink and it supplies many of our drinking water sources,” Cousins continued.
All PFAS are either extremely persistent in the environment or break down into extremely persistent PFAS, which has earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.”
These have been associated with a wide range of serious health harms, including cancer, learning and behavioural problems in children, infertility and pregnancy complications, increased cholesterol, and immune system problems.
Dr Jane Muncke, Managing Director of the Food Packaging Forum Foundation in Zürich, Switzerland, and not involved in the work, points out: “It cannot be that some few benefit economically while polluting the drinking water for millions of others, and causing serious health problems. The huge costs to reduce PFAS in drinking water to levels that are safe, based on current scientific understanding, need to be paid by the industry producing and using these toxic chemicals. The time to act is now.”
The research is published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology, DOI10.1021/acs.est.2c02765
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