High PFAS Levels Detected in Groundwater Around the World

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A new study on global surface water and groundwater has found levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or “forever chemicals,” to exceed limits considered safe.

As reported by CNN, the study found that limits of PFAS in some groundwater samples collected globally exceeded proposed limits by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Health Canada’s set standards.

“We already knew that PFAS is pervasive in the environment, but I was surprised to find out the large fraction of source waters that are above drinking water advisory recommendations,” Denis O’Carroll, senior author of the study and engineering professor at University of New South Wales, Sydney, said in a statement. “We’re talking above 5%, and it goes over 50% in some cases.”

Researchers collected over 45,000 pieces of data from around the world spanning over 20 years to measure PFAS in source water.

The team found high PFAS levels in source water in Australia, particularly in areas that had been used for military purposes or fire training. PFAS are common in firefighting foams. But even 31% of samples from areas without known contamination sources had PFAS levels that exceeded proposed U.S. EPA limits for PFAS in drinking water. About 69% of samples from areas with unknown contamination sources exceeded the standards set by Health Canada.

The authors did note, however, that these higher concentrations of PFAS were detected in source water, such as surface water and groundwater, but not in drinking water, to which the safe limits apply.

“Drinking water is largely safe, and I don’t hesitate drinking it,” O’Carroll explained. “I also don’t suggest that bottled water is better, because it doesn’t mean that they’ve done anything differently than what comes out of the tap. But I certainly think that monitoring PFAS levels and making the data easily available is worthwhile.”

The study, which is the first of its kind to detect PFAS impacts on the environment at a global scale, was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The authors warned that these findings were likely lower than the actual number of PFAS in source water, as they monitored for a limited number of PFAS that some governments regulate. Further, PFAS in consumer products could also be higher than previous estimates, providing more contamination sources.

“There’s a real unknown amount of PFAS that we’re not measuring in the environment,” O’Carroll said in a statement. “Commercial products like garments and food packaging have a lot more PFAS in them than we realise. This means we’re likely underestimating the environmental burden posed by PFAS.”

The impacts of PFAS on the environment and human health continue to be researched. However, some studies have linked PFAS to reproductive impacts, developmental impacts in children and elevated risks of certain types of cancer, including thyroid, ovarian endometrial, testicular and prostate cancers. The World Health Organization (WHO)’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently classified PFOA, a common type of PFAS, as “carcinogenic to humans.” IARC also classified another common forever chemical, PFOS, as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

The research team behind this new source water study plans to continue their research by determining how many PFAS are reaching the environment from consumer goods, as well as developing models that can predict where PFAS will leach out into environments. In another study, the researchers will look into ways to break down forever chemicals in drinking water. These studies are expected to be completed by 2026.

This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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