It’s Raining PFAS – Should We Worry?

This news snippet definitely caught our eye. All over the world – even on the mountains of Tibet and Antarctica – it’s raining PFAS. In fact, there’s so much PFAS in rainwater all over the world that rainwater is no longer safe to drink. This news comes from an analysis published by the American Chemical Society in their journal Environmental Science & Technology.

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These are synthetic chemicals with a common name – forever chemicals – stemming from the fact that once they go into the environment they almost never go away.

The new research published this week tells us that levels of these chemicals in rainwater everywhere on earth now exceed the levels that environmental protection agencies, including the U.S. EPA, say are hazardous to health.

Among other things, we have reason to believe that these chemicals can trigger obesity.

Endocrine Disruptors

These chemicals have quite a range of toxic effects – on metabolic health, liver function, infant birth weight, immune function, and risks for certain kinds of cancer. Because they can disrupt normal function of the endocrine system, they may cause weight gain and obesity. In short, they are endocrine disrupting chemicals that mimic the activity of human hormones that regulate weight and appetite.

The metabolic signalling pathways they influence include peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors, oestrogen receptors, and thyroid hormone receptors. Exposure to some kinds of PFAS predicts the development of child obesity.

Exposure All Around

PFAS exposure goes up over time for the simple reason that the chemical industry continues producing these chemicals and once produced they really don’t go away for a long time, if at all. They permeate the soil, air, and water. A recent investigation by the Chicago Tribune found hazardous levels of PFAS in the drinking water of many Illinois communities. They found it being spread in sludge used for fertilizer on farmland. As part of their investigation, they described how the deaths of West Virginia livestock from exposure to these forever chemicals in the 1990s led to an understanding of how they made their way into our environment.

A Health Risk for All of Us

Because of the toxic and endocrine disrupting effects of PFAS, the Endocrine Society last week urged the President to waste no more time in classifying two of them – PFOA and PFOS – as hazardous substances. Pollution with these chemicals disproportionately harms low income and minority communities.

But PFAS is raining down on us all, making its way into our bodies, irrespective of health choices we might make for ourselves. While many people focus exclusively on dietary behaviors as triggers for obesity, these ubiquitous chemicals represent a health risk that is not a matter of personal choice. Regulatory action can protect us from exposure. There’s no good reason to delay.

Click here, here, here, and here for more on our exposure to PFAS.

Rain, painting by Marc Chagall / WikiArt

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August 5, 2022