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Forever Chemicals contaminating rainwater globally

Published: 25th Aug, 2022


According to a recent study, rainwater from many places across the globe is contaminated with “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” (PFAs), which are called “forever chemicals” because of their tendency to stick around in the atmosphere, rainwater and soil for long periods of time.


What are Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)?

  • The per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water.
  • PFAs can migrate to the soil, water and air during their production and use.
  • Since most PFAs do not break down, they remain in the environment for long periods of time.
  • Many PFAS, including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are a concern because they:
    • do not break down in the environment,
    • can move through soils and contaminate drinking water sources,
    • build up (bioaccumulate) in fish and wildlife.
    • PFAS are found in rivers and lakes and in many types of animals on land and in the water.

      PFAS are used in a wide range of consumer products due to their ability to repel both grease and water, including:

      • In paper and cardboard food packaging (e.g. takeaway containers, popcorn bags, pizza boxes, ready-made cakes etc.)
      • In non-stick cookware
      • In textiles (e.g. waterproof outdoor clothing and equipment, carpets, mattresses etc.)
      • In cosmetics (e.g. hair conditioner, foundation cream, sunscreen etc.)
      • In electronics (e.g. smartphones)

Risks to human health:

Exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to:

  • Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
  • Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.

Regulation of PFAS (Globally)

  • The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is an international treaty aiming to eliminate or restrict the production and use of the most toxic chemicals of global concern.
  • Currently, two sub-group of PFAS are listed in the convention: PFOS and related substances since 2009 for global restriction and PFOA and related substances since 2019 for global elimination.

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