It’s raining PFAS: Toxic forever chemicals exceed safe levels all over the globe
Harmful chemicals can be found all over our homes, from children’s toys to food packaging, but a new study suggests even the most remote, untouched parts of the earth have been contaminated with toxic chemicals called PFAS. From the frozen expanse of Antarctica to the so called ‘roof of the world’ on the Tibetan Plateau, levels of PFAS chemicals in rainwater have been found at levels deemed unsafe for the health of people and the environment.
PFAS are a family of chemicals that hardly degrade in the environment, earning them the nickname ‘forever chemicals’. They are used in a wide range of consumer products, such as waterproof clothing and frying pans. During production, use and disposal they can move into our environment. Research suggests PFAS can have negative impacts on human health, including interfering with our hormonal and reproductive systems and promoting the development of certain cancers.
The study from Stockholm University looked at four specific PFAS chemicals. Across the globe they found levels of these chemicals in rainwater almost always exceeded health advisory levels for drinking water set by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and often exceeded the Danish drinking water limits. Soils were also found to be contaminated around the world with levels often exceeding guideline values. They therefore concluded that the planetary boundary for PFAS pollution has been exceeded.
This means that no matter where you are on the planet, you are exposed to low levels of these chemicals.
The common belief was that eventually these chemicals would dissipate into the deep ocean and dilute over decades. However, the persistent nature of these chemicals, coupled with the ability of sea spray aerosol to carry these chemicals back into the atmosphere, has created an unholy alliance which allows these chemicals to continually re-enter the water cycle.
The authors of the study call for a rapid restriction of PFAS, wherever possible, to reduce the impact on the environment and human health. This is something that CHEM Trust has advocated in favour of, for many years, and we are urging the UK government to ban all PFAS in non-essential uses by 2025.