A recent study conducted by researchers at Stockholm University found that levels of so-called eternal chemicals found in rainwater are much higher than the level deemed safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The study, first reported by the BBC, suggests that levels of a PFAS in rainwater around the world “often exceed” drinking water advisory levels.
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a non-binding health advice on June 15 for four of the most common per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS — that would reduce drinking water standards from 70 parts per trillion to four parts per quadrillion, a level 17,500 times lower.
The study also suggests that it is likely that there is no longer a corner of the globe that has not been spared from PFAS contamination, as the chemicals have even been found in Antarctica. The researchers found that although the number of products made with PFAS chemicals has decreased over the past few decades, the amount of PFAS in the environment has not decreased significantly.
Due to PFAS’ ability to move through water, the chemicals are likely recycled through the environment as part of the natural water cycle, the researchers said.
Three of the most commonly detected PFAS – often called “eternal chemicals” because they break down slowly in the environment – have been linked to an enzyme that indicates non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a study from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
These specific chemicals are called PFOS, PFOA, and PFNA, and are three of the most studied chemicals forever found in products such as nonstick pans, rainwear, and take-out containers.
PFAS chemicals have also been linked to a risk of hypertension and high blood pressure in older women, according to a study published by the American Heart Association.
Previously, PFAS have been linked to liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
Why is this important: This is the latest development regarding the prevalence and persistence of PFAS in the environment, and the difficulty there will be in adapting or mitigating the problem. It also highlights the number of people around the world potentially affected by PFAS contamination.
Essential context: Maine relies on PFAS contamination in everything from drinking water and agricultural soil to freshwater fish and wild deer. Much of the PFAS contamination in Maine can be traced back to the practice of spreading sludge on agricultural land starting in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was introduced as a cost-effective way to improve soil fertility and a way to get rid of waste for local sewage treatment plants and paper companies.
Key quote: “Based on the latest U.S. guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be deemed 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 to supply many of our drinking water sources,” said lead researcher Ian Cousins, professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, University from Stockholm.