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Home » Rainwater everywhere on Earth unsafe to drink due to ‘forever chemicals’, study finds

Rainwater everywhere on Earth unsafe to drink due to ‘forever chemicals’, study finds

Rainwater almost everywhere on Earth has unsafe levels of ‘forever chemicals’, according to new research.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large family of human-made chemicals that don’t occur in nature. They are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down in the environment. They have non-stick or stain repellent properties so can be found in household items like food packaging, electronics, cosmetics and cookware.

But now researchers at the University of Stockholm have found them in rainwater in most locations on the planet – including Antarctica. There is no safe space to escape them. Safe guideline levels for some of these forever chemicals have dropped dramatically over the last two decades due to new insights into their toxicity.

“There has been an astounding decline in guideline values for PFAS in drinking water in the last 20 years,” says Ian Cousins, lead author of the study and professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University. For one well-known substance, the “cancer-causing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)”, water guideline values have declined by 37.5 million times in the US.

“Based on the latest US guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be judged unsafe to drink,” he says.

“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.”

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