Image Credit: Anna Nikonorova/Shutterstock.com
A new study has revealed that rainwater falling in some parts of the US contains toxic levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are known to be detrimental to human health. Regulatory action could be triggered if high enough levels are found in drinking water.
PFAS Suspected Cause Of Cancer and Other Diseases
PFAS is a group of over 4,700 synthetic chemicals that were first commercially produced in the 1940s to create new water/stain/grease resistant surfaces. Now, they are used in a wide range of everyday products, including food packaging (such as pizza boxes), clothing (particularly waterproof items), carpeting and textiles, Teflon non-stick kitchenware, Scotchgard water repellent, some furniture and electronics, dental floss, and more. The chemicals have even been found in fish and vegetables produced in contaminated water or soil.
The problem with PFAS being prevalent is that they do not break down, and therefore accumulate in the environment and humans. Recent studies have found that 98% of Americans have levels of a certain type of PFAS known as PFOA. The study even concluded that it exists in breast milk and umbilical cord blood. This is thought to be related to the fact that PFAS is found in the drinking water of around 16 million Americans.
These figures are alarming given the long list of health problems that research has uncovered to be related to PFAS exposure. Studies have exposed links between PFAS and different cancers (including kidney, testicular and thyroid), immune system disruption, impaired fertility, liver damage, vaccine resistance, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and more. What’s worrying is that in light of all this evidence, the federal government does not regulate PFAS.
Contamination Found Across The Country
It has only been during recent years that scientists have begun to gather data on PFAS contamination. Previously evidence has shown that the lakes, rivers, and groundwater reserves of the US were widely contaminated, but scientists were unsure of the impact of this contamination in rainwater.
This year, a team of researchers investigated 37 rainwater samples taken from 30 different locations across the country. In each of the samples, they found the presence of at least one fo the 36 PFAS compounds they were looking into. The results showed that in general, concentrations of PFAS found in the rainwater were quite low. However, the highest concentration was 5.5 nanograms per liter (ng/l), which is alarming given that some states have proposed a limit of 2 ng/l for combined PFOS and PFOA contaminants in drinking water.
Calls For Tighter Regulations
The evidence collected by the study highlights the need to investigate PFAS contamination further, and to encourage states to set appropriate limits to keep people safe from the detrimental health effects. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a level of 70 ng/l for combined PFOS and PFOA contaminants in drinking water, however, more research is needed to ensure that the level reflects the severity of the health implications associated with exposure.
Currently, experts are unsure exactly how PFAS are entering the rainwater, although they suspect it is likely by a number of avenues, such as contamination of fire-fighting foams that are full of PFAS and industrial emissions. Evidence shows that PFAS compounds are easily transported across long distances, demonstrating the national concern of contamination.
There are calls for more research into the nature of PFAS contamination in order to set the correct limitations as well as to enable the development of initiatives that will prevent contamination. These concerns come to light as other water contaminates have recently been discovered, such as GenX, signaling the need for the proper regulation of compounds found in drinking water.