In lots of parts of the planet, including Africa, people depend on rainwater as a way to obtain normal water, in addition to for other household and livelihood uses. Among the reasons is water scarcity sub-Saharan Africa gets the largest amount of water-scarce countries on earth. But you can find concerns about how exactly safe rainwater would be to drink. It could be contaminated by dust and ash in the environment or by rock from roofing material. Another concern may be the presence of manufactured chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals”. As environmental scientist Ian Cousins and his team explain, they’re a threat to the usage of rainwater for domestic purposes.
What exactly are PFAS and just why should we worry about them?
PFAS certainly are a band of man-made substances often referred to as “forever chemicals” since they never breakdown in the surroundings.
They’re found everywhere in air, soil, and water in addition to in wildlife, plants and humans. They could be on the highest mountains, in the deep oceans and on both poles. A recent study highlighted the widespread presence of PFAS in rainwater, from the Tibetan Plateau to Antarctica, and noted that in accordance with recently published health advisories, rainwater everywhere could possibly be considered unsafe to drink.
Based on the US Environmental Protection Agency, you can find a lot more than 12,000 of the chemicals used. They are produced and applied to a big scale in an array of industrial and commercial applications because the second world war. Well-known uses include fire-fighting foams, non-stick cookware, and paper and board used to wrap and contain food. You can find a huge selection of uses, too numerous to list.
The human exposure pathways and health ramifications of the majority of the chemicals are poorly understood or unknown, aside from four about which there’s good information. They’re: PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), PFHxS (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) and PFNA (perfluorononanoic acid).
At elevated degrees of exposure, these four have already been connected with serious human health harms, including different types of cancer, development toxicity, infertility and pregnancy complications, raised chlesterol, ulcerative colitis, liver hypertrophy (“enlargement”), and thyroid disease.
The recent extremely low advisories for normal water were prompted by the observation that contact with these chemicals can result in decreased vaccine effectiveness in children.
PFAS have already been used for quite a long time. But intensive research in it began no more than 20 years back. Since then, the data of toxicity has increased enormously. Predicated on this knowledge, the exposure level that’s considered safe for humans has been set lower and lower.
The PFAS levels in health advisories for food and normal water have already been reduced to a spot that’s hard to attain. It is because the advisory values are near or even greater than the PFAS level in the surroundings.
Inside our recent study we showed that degrees of certain PFAS in rainwater now exceed the rules set by the united states Environmental Protection Agency even yet in the remotest parts of the planet earth.
It is very important remember that the degrees of the four PFAS in rainwater along with other environmental media haven’t increased recently. The utilization and emission of the so-called “legacy” PFAS was discontinued in lots of countries recently. But their stability implies that they will stay in the surroundings indefinitely.
The degrees of the four PFAS in the atmosphere have already been stable given that they were first measured in the first 2000s, this means their levels have already been above the newest normal water advisories since that time.
The problem may also not improve soon. PFAS usually do not not breakdown in the surroundings. Their only route for removal from environments where we produce food is slow dilution in to the deep oceans. Rainwater levels might take decades to fall below the levels occur health advisories. The precise recovery time is uncertain.
How are people most exposed?
For the four well-studied PFAS, humans are exposed primarily through food, normal water and household dust. Food and normal water are contaminated primarily by the surroundings.
For the bigger class of PFAS, human exposure pathways vary enormously, and there are lots of a large number of other PFAS that aren’t monitored or studied at all, so we realize nothing about their exposure levels or toxicities, that is concerning.
You can find methods to remove PFAS from water, nonetheless it isn’t clear if the levels could be brought below the most recent health advisories.
Regular vacuuming can reduce dust exposure, but there is absolutely no solution to remove PFAS from food. Therefore, it isn’t possible to totally avoid contact with low-level PFAS. Humans will need to live with it.
Could it be safe to drink rainwater?
We have been uncertain. It really is unlikely that lots of of the consequences listed above will be observed at suprisingly low exposure levels, of pg/L or ng/L (picogram/litre and nanogram/litre are units of concentration). An impact that could be observed at these low levels may be the decreased effectiveness of vaccines.
Medical advisories are set so low as the authorities wish to be near sure that no effects will occur at those levels. The precautionary assumptions are accustomed to ensure that the general public is protected. Therefore, we need to hope that some effects on the large scale won’t occur, but we can not be sure.
What lessons could be learned?
You can find a lot more than 12,000 PFAS currently used, with a huge selection of individual uses. All PFAS are man-made and, therefore, they will have room in the environment. Because of concerns about their eternal presence and potential toxicities, scientists have suggested that PFAS should only be utilized where they’re essential and that the essentiality of each PFAS used ought to be evaluated.
Ian Cousins, Professor of Contaminant Chemistry, Stockholm University; Bo Sha, PhD Candidate, Stockholm University; Jana H. Johansson, Researcher, Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University; Martin Scheringer, Senior scientist, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, and Matthew Salter, Researcher, Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University