PFAS levels in rainwater have made it ‘unsafe to drink’ globally, even in remote areas: study

Researchers from Europe say global levels of man-made “forever chemicals” have made rainwater unsafe to drink around the world, even in the most remote areas.

The study, published in a peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology Tuesday from researchers at Stockholm University and ETH Zurich, argues that guidelines for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water, surface water and soil have dropped “dramatically” in the last 20 years “because of new insights into its toxicity. “

Ian Cousins, lead author of the study and a professor at Stockholm University, called the decline “astonishing.”

In a press releasesaid one chemical in particular, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which causes cancer, has seen drinking water guidelines drop 37.5 million times in the US.

“Under the latest US guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be considered unsafe to drink,” Cousins ​​said.

“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 supplies many of our drinking water sources.”

The term PFAS is used to describe the thousands of man-made substances that have historically been found in a number of items, including surfactants, lubricants, repellents, fire-fighting foams, textiles, cosmetics, and food packaging. the canadian government says.

Exposure to PFAS it can occur through food, drinking water, and house dust, and is associated with reproductive, developmental, endocrine, liver, kidney, and immune problems, as well as certain types of cancer.

Because of their ability to persist in the environment for long periods of time, experts often describe PFAS as “forever chemicals.”

The researchers say the global spread of PFAS in the atmosphere means they can be found in rainwater and snow even in remote areas, such as Antarctica and the Tibetan Plateau.

Although the manufacturer 3M has worked to taper off substances for two decades, researchers say some harmful PFAS are not experiencing any noticeable decline in the atmosphere.

“The extreme persistence and ongoing global cycling of certain PFASs will lead to continued exceedances of the aforementioned guidelines,” study co-author and Professor Martin Scheringer said in the statement.

Scheringer says that because of this, “it makes sense to define a planetary limit specifically for PFAS and, as we conclude in the paper, this limit has now been exceeded.”

Jane Muncke, managing director of the Food Packaging Forum in Switzerland, who was not involved in the study, said in the press release that companies should not be allowed to “benefit financially while polluting the drinking water of millions of people and causing serious problems.” of health”. .”

“The large amounts it will cost to reduce PFAS in drinking water to levels that are safe based on current scientific knowledge must be paid for by the industry that produces and uses these toxic chemicals,” Muncke said. “The time to act is now.”

With files from The Associated Press

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