Rainwater is no longer safe to drink anywhere on Earth by US contamination guidelines, according to a team of environmental scientists.
That’s because rainwater across the planet now contains hazardous chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). In a paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology on August 2, researchers at University of Stockholm, which has been studying PFAS for a decade, found evidence that these substances have spread throughout the entire atmosphere, leaving no place untouched.
There are thousands of PFAS, all human-made, used in food packaging, water-repellant clothing, furniture, carpets, nonstick coating on pots and pans, fire-extinguishing foams, electronics, and some shampoos and cosmetics.
According to a report by Business Insider, during manufacturing and daily use, they can be released into the air. They also leach into ocean water and get aerosolized in sea spray. From there, they spread through the atmosphere and fall back to Earth in rain.
They’re often called “forever chemicals” because they linger for a long time without breaking down, allowing them to build up in people, animals, and environments.
PFAS have been found in Antarctica and in Arctic sea ice. Their prevalence across the planet is a hazard to human health, since peer-reviewed studies have linked them to some cancers, decreased fertility, reduced vaccine response, high cholesterol, and developmental delays in children.
Like microplastics, it is difficult to identify all the long-lasting health effects of PFAS exposure because they include so many different compounds and they are so prevalent in the environment. The new paper suggests that everybody on Earth is at risk.