The study finds that rainwater everywhere on Earth contains “forever chemicals” that cause cancer

The study finds that rainwater everywhere on Earth contains “forever chemicals” that cause cancer

The study finds that rainwater everywhere on Earth contains “forever chemicals” that cause cancer

Even in the remotest parts of the world, the level of so-called “forever chemicals” in the atmosphere has become so high that rainwater is now “unsafe to drink” under new water quality guidelines.

Forever chemicals are a group of man-made hazardous products known as PFAS, which stands for perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances, some of which are linked to cancer in humans.

In recent decades they have spread globally through streams, oceans, soil and atmosphere and, as a result, can now be found in rainwater and snow even in the most remote locations on Earth: from Antarctica to the plateau. Tibetan, the researchers said.

The guiding values ​​for PFAS in drinking water, surface water and soils have been drastically revised downwards thanks to a greater understanding of their toxicity and the threats they pose to health and the natural world.

The changes mean that the levels of these chemicals in rainwater “are now ubiquitous above guideline levels,” according to researchers from Stockholm University and ETH Zurich University.

“There has been a staggering decline in guideline values ​​for PFAS in drinking water over the past 20 years,” said Ian Cousins, lead author of the study and professor in Stockholm University’s Department of Environmental Sciences.

“For example, the guide value of drinking water for a known substance in the PFAS class, carcinogenic perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), has decreased 37.5 million times in the United States.”

He added: “Under the latest US guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be deemed unsafe to drink.”

‘Although we don’t drink rainwater often in the industrial world, many people around the world expect it to be safe to drink and provide many of our sources of drinking water,’ said Professor Cousins.

To study the prevalence of these chemicals, the Stockholm University team has conducted laboratory and field research on the atmospheric presence and transport of PFAS over the past decade.

They found that the levels of some harmful PFAS in the atmosphere are not particularly decreasing despite their phasing out by the main manufacturer, 3M, as early as two decades ago.

PFAS are known to be highly persistent – hence known as “chemicals forever” – but their continued presence in the atmosphere is also due to their properties and natural processes that continuously recycle PFAS from the surface environment to the atmosphere. .

A key way in which PFAS are continuously cycled in the atmosphere is through transport from seawater to sea air by marine aerosols, which is another active research area for the Stockholm University team.

“The extreme persistence and the continuous global cycle of some PFAS will lead to the continuous overcoming of [water quality] guidelines, “said Professor Martin Scheringer, co-author of the study and based at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and the University of Masaryk in the Czech Republic.”

“So now, due to the global spread of PFAS, environmental media everywhere will surpass 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 specific planetary boundary for PFAS and, as we conclude in the document, this boundary has been crossed,” he added.

The research team noted that PFAS have been associated with a wide range of serious health impairments, including cancer, learning and behavioral problems in children, infertility and pregnancy complications, increased cholesterol, and immune system problems.

Dr Jane Muncke, CEO of the Food Packaging Forum Foundation in Zurich, who was not involved in the research, said: ‘It can’t be that some benefit economically while polluting drinking water for millions of others and causing serious Health problems. “

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

The research is published as a prospective article in the journal Environmental sciences and technologies.

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