New Study Finds Toxic PFAS in Rainwater Across the U.S.

PFAS foam   Photo: Jake May, The Flint Journal, via Associated Press

A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that rainwater across the county contains harmful levels of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also called “forever chemicals” — levels that have had severe impacts on human health.  We have reported in ODP about widespread PFAS contamination in lakesrivers, and groundwater across the country, but this study shows that PFAS is also found in rainwater, according to The Guardian, and the likely sources are direct industrial emissions and evaporation from PFAS-laden fire-fighting foams.

Why This Matters:  PFAS has been shown to cause serious health issues such as cancer, and impacts the immune system and causes thyroid problems.  These chemicals are essentially not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency despite these known health effects, but they have been found in hundreds of sites across the U.S. and many states are beginning to prohibit them.  Moreover, what we are learning now is that PFAS compounds can move significant distances from their source — these toxic compounds have even been found in the Arctic and in populations of Alaska nativesCongress should be moving to broadly ban them and to fund their cleanup because they have been used widely by the military services and in manufacturing and even in household products.  Only last week, Congress passed a law phasing out their use but only by the Defense Department.

Ubiquitous and Forever Chemicals

PFAS chemicals are common in everyday items like insulation, food packaging, carpeting, cookware, and firefighting foam, according to NBC Newsthey are found in the drinking water of 100 million Americans and the bloodstream of 99% of Americans.  They are called the “forever” chemical because they never break down.

Congress Fails To Fund Their Cleanup

PFAS has caused various health problems around military bases where the chemicals were once prominent in fire-fighting equipment. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has produced a map that showcases the 305 military sites across the nation that used PFAS-based firefighting foam.  Last week, Congress dropped a provision from the Department of Defense spending bill that would have prohibited the ongoing releases PFAS, required the removal of PFAS from tap water and the cleanup legacy PFAS contamination, according to an EWG press release.

Dupont’s Latest Move

These are the chemicals that are the subject of the new movie Dark Waters that tells the story of the real-life efforts of a lawyer seeking to hold Dupont accountable for pollution from its factory in West Virginia that caused severe health problems in nearby residents.  DuPont, which is the main manufacturer of PFAS chemicals, announced last week that it will purchase a company that specializes in reverse osmosis water filtration technology that removes toxic PFAS chemicals from water. The EWG was highly critical of this development.

“After making billions contaminating the nation’s drinking water with PFAS chemicals, now DuPont will profit off the backs of local governments and taxpayers trying to clean up the mess,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “This outrageously cynical move is right on brand for DuPont, which knew decades ago that PFAS chemicals were hazardous to human health but covered it up for the sake of profit.”

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