A person shelters from the rain under an umbrella while looking on surfers during an autumn raining day, in Laredo, northern Spain, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. Credit: Alvaro Barrientos

A recent study conducted by researchers at Stockholm University has found that the levels of so-called forever chemicals found in rainwater are much higher than the level deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency.

The study, first reported on by the BBC, suggests that levels of one PFAS in rainwater around the world often “greatly exceed” drinking water advisory levels.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a   nonbinding health advisory on June 15 for four of the most common per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS — that would reduce drinking water standards from 70 parts per trillion to four parts per quadrillion, a level 17,500 times lower.

The study also suggests that it is likely that there is no longer a corner of the globe that has been unaffected by PFAS contamination, as the chemicals have even been found in Antarctica. Researchers found that even though the number of products produced with PFAS chemicals decreased in the past few decades, the amount of PFAS in the environment has not significantly declined.

Due to PFAS ability to travel through water, the chemicals are likely being recycled through the environment as part of the natural water cycle, researchers said.

Three of the most commonly detected PFAS — often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they slowly break down in the environment — have been linked to an enzyme that indicates nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,   a study from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine published in Environmental Health Perspectives recently found.

Those specific chemicals are referred to as PFOS, PFOA and PFNA, and are three of the most-studied forever chemicals found in products such as non-stick pans, waterproof clothing and take-out containers.

PFAS chemicals have also been linked to a risk of hypertension and high blood pressure in older women, according to a    study released by the American Heart Association.

Previously, PFAS had already been linked to liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.

Why it matters: This is the latest development in how prevalent and persistent PFAS are in the environment, and how challenging it will be to adapt to or mitigate the problem. It also shines light on how many people, worldwide, have potentially been affected by PFAS contamination.

Essential background: Maine is reckoning with PFAS contamination in everything from drinking water and farm soil to   freshwater fish and   wild deer. Much of the PFAS contamination in Maine is traced back to the practice of   spreading sludge on farmland starting in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was pitched as a cost-effective way to improve soil fertility and a way to get rid of waste products for local sewage treatment plants and paper companies.

Key Quote: “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 lead researcher Ian Cousins, professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University.

Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.