There’s rainwater everywhere, but none of it is safe to drink because of man-made “forever chemicals” worldwide, according to a new study from the University of Stockholm.
The study, published Aug. 2, included data from the remote Tibetan plateau and Antarctica, normally known for their pristine water due to all the snow and ice. “Forever chemicals” have still contaminated both locations, at levels 14 times higher than U.S. drinking water guidelines, according to Agence France-Presse.
The chemicals, specifically classified as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have been restricted heavily in recent years as scientists have learned more about their toxicity. The guidelines for safe PFA levels in water are as much as 37.5 million times lower than previous levels.
“Based on the latest U.S. guidelines for PFOA [a cancer-causing PFAS] in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be judged 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 it supplies many of our drinking water sources,” said Ian Cousins, the lead author of the study, in a University of Stockholm press release.
Although the chemicals have been phased out by their manufacturers, such as 3M, for years, they have persisted in the environment. PFAS are continuously cycled back into the atmosphere by surface-level water sources, such as the ocean.
“They are not declining noticeably because of the high persistence of PFAS and their ability to cycle from the ocean back to the atmosphere,” Mr. Cousins told Medical News Today.
Due to environmental cycling, filtration in treatment plants is the only method capable of removing PFAS from water; otherwise, untreated rainwater remains contaminated.
“We can only clean the drinking water in the treatment plants using advanced treatment technologies. … We cannot remove PFAS from the environment. … It will take a very long time — of the order of decades to centuries — for PFAS to gradually dilute into the deep oceans,” Mr. Cousins explained to Medical News Today.
PFAS exposure can cause a litany of health issues in human beings, including multiple cancers, pregnancy complications, and developmental delays in children, according to the AFP.
Some scientists have already called for the chemical industry to pay the costs of filtrating PFAS from water.
“The vast amounts that it will cost to reduce PFAS in drinking water to levels that are safe based on current scientific understanding need to be paid by the industry producing and using these toxic chemicals,” Jane Muncke, managing director of the Food Packaging Forum Foundation in Switzerland, said in the university press release.