«Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made hazardous chemicals that are spread globally in the atmosphere and as a result they can be found in the rainwater and snow in even the most remote locations on Earth. During the last 20 years, guideline values for PFAS in drinking water, surface waters and soils have decreased dramatically due to new insights into their toxicity. As a result, the levels in environmental media are now ubiquitously above guideline levels.
A perspective article by researchers from Stockholm University and ETH Zurich that is published today in Environmental Science & Technology suggests that PFAS define a new planetary boundary for novel entities that has been exceeded.
“Based on the latest U.S. guidelines for PFOA 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 and professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University.
PFAS have been associated with a wide range of serious health harms, including cancer, learning and behavioral problems in children, infertility and pregnancy complications, increased cholesterol, and immune system problems.
Dr. Jane Muncke, Managing Director of the Food Packaging Forum Foundation in Zürich, Switzerland, and not involved in the work, points out: “It cannot be that some few benefit economically while polluting the drinking water for millions of others, and causing serious health problems. 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. The time to act is now.”»