‘Forever chemicals’ may be linked to fertility issues, an increased risk of cancer, and developmental delays in children.
Rainwater, almost everywhere on Earth, contains dangerous levels of ‘forever chemicals’ that mean it is now unsafe to drink, according to new research.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large family of synthetic chemicals that do not exist in nature. They are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade in the environment.
They are used in household items such as food packaging, electronics, cosmetics, and cookware because they have nonstick or stain repellent properties.
Now, researchers from the University of Stockholm have discovered them in rainwater in almost every location on the planet, including Antarctica.
Because of important discoveries into their toxicity, safe guideline levels for some of these forever chemicals have dropped dramatically over the last two decades.
“There has been an astounding decline in guideline values for PFAS in drinking water in the last 20 years,” Ian Cousins, lead author of the study and professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University, told Euronews.
Water guideline values for one well-known substance, the “cancer-causing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA),” have decreased by 37.5 million times in the United States.
“Based on the latest US guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be judged unsafe to drink,” he says.
“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.”
Countries have reduced their recommended limits for PFAS in drinking water, surface water, and soil over the last 20 years as new information about their toxic nature continues to emerge.
As a result, the levels in the environment have risen above the recommended levels.
The research team emphasised the importance of acting quickly to prevent further damage and contamination, which would necessitate a “large investment in advanced cleanup technology” as well as “rapidly restricting PFAS uses wherever possible.”
However, PFAS are now part of a natural cycling process, often spreading from seawater to marine air via sea spray aerosols, according to the researchers.
What does this mean for your health?
The health risks of being exposed to these substances have been extensively researched.
According to scientists, they may be linked to fertility issues, an increased risk of cancer, and developmental delays in children.
Others, however, argue that no link between these chemicals and poor health can be established.
Despite this, and as a result of this new research, some are advocating for stricter PFAS regulations.