Rainwater Everywhere Contains Unsafe Levels Of PFAS
By Peter Chawaga
Drinking water and wastewater managers throughout the U.S. are keenly aware of just how pervasive per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can be in the environment. But now, new research has found that all rainwater around the world contains these contaminants to unsafe degrees.
“Atmospheric levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ are so high that rainwater everywhere contains amounts that are unsafe for long-term human consumption according to safety guidelines,” Vice reported. “‘Even in these remote and sparsely populated regions, such as Antarctica and the Tibetan plateau, the most stringent PFAS guidelines are exceeded,’ according to a study.”
The rising prevalence of PFAS in drinking water around the country has prompted the U.S. EPA to commit to more stringent regulations around the contaminants, has initiated a “seismic shift” in the legal landscape for industrial polluters, and has prompted existential questions about how drinking water and wastewater operations are supposed to respond.
But this latest study underscored the fact that PFAS are nearly impossible to avoid, no matter what actions water and wastewater systems take.
“This new study, which looks at four specific chemicals in the class, suggests that levels of one PFAS in rainwater around the globe often ‘greatly exceed’ US drinking water advisory levels,” according to the BBC. “The study’s findings lead the authors to conclude that a planetary boundary has been crossed — that there simply is no safe space on Earth to avoid these substances.”
As researchers learn more about PFAS and the potential harm that can come from exposure to them, regulations are becoming stricter. And while the production of products containing PFAS has been largely phased out, these so-called forever chemicals remain in the environment for a notoriously long time.
With the global environment now found to be totally inundated with PFAS, much of the burden for keeping these compounds away from consumers continues to fall on drinking water treatment operations.
“Removing the chemicals in the study from drinking water at treatment plants is possible, if expensive,” per BBC. “But getting below the US advisory levels is extremely challenging, according to the authors.”