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Global study finds concerning levels of 'forever chemicals' in water samples taken far away from original source of contamination: 'Sets off alarm bells'

"We don't necessarily know their long-term impacts to us or the ecosystem."

"We don't necessarily know their long-term impacts to us or the ecosystem."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new global study found harmful levels of PFAS, or "forever chemicals," in water far from known contamination sites.

What's happening?

As detailed by The New York Times, the study examined over 45,000 water samples. It revealed that about 31% of groundwater samples and about 16% of surface water samples contained high levels of forever chemicals despite not being near any known source of PFAS contamination.

This "sets off alarm bells," said Denis O'Carroll, one of the study's authors, per The Times. "Not just for PFAS, but also for all the other chemicals that we put out into the environment. We don't necessarily know their long-term impacts to us or the ecosystem." 

The researchers drew sample data from almost 300 previous studies and cautioned that the findings did not represent a true global distribution of the world's waterways, yet still gave "reason to believe … that there's some level of PFAS contamination nearly everywhere on the planet," as The Times summarized.

The samples with the highest levels of contamination were those taken near airports and military bases, which typically use foam containing PFAS during firefighting practice, creating an issue for local residents.

Why is this research concerning?

Forever chemicals are basically everywhere, and they're called "forever" chemicals because it takes hundreds or possibly thousands of years for them to break down. We've found forever chemicals in food packaging, certain clothing, and now our drinking water.

High PFAS exposure has been linked to serious health issues such as higher cholesterol, liver and immune system damage, hypertension, and certain cancers.

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cited that exposure to PFAS can be linked to decreased fertility in women and developmental delays in children.

What is being done about forever chemicals in water?

The Times reported that the EPA is proposing strict new drinking water limits for six types of PFAS, with a final ruling expected soon. This could make the U.S. one of the strictest countries regarding PFAS in water.

Science will be our ally in the fight to clean up our drinking water. Scientists recently discovered adding hydrogen to ultraviolet light significantly improves its effectiveness against breaking down PFAS. 

Changing the way you use plastic, or even eliminating it, is a great step you can take right now that will reduce your exposure and benefit your health.

Even cooking more often at home has been shown to help reduce PFA exposure, especially if you can avoid using nonstick cookware.

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