You know rainwater? The stuff that falls from the sky? Provides life to all living things and sustains the world as we know it? It’s poisonous. There are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in the water. These chemicals, which make certain products nonstick or stain resistant, have been mostly phased out by the manufacturers but are unbelievably still in production today.
This isn’t a local issue, this isn’t a national issue, this is a planetary crisis that we all must reckon with. The researchers who published the study revealing our water’s contamination say that a “planetary boundary has been exceeded.” PFAS present a nova mortis for our collective environmental health: they cause an increased risk of cancer, decreased fertility, liver damage and more.
The worst part is how long-lasting PFAS are. They’re known as forever chemicals because they’re “among the most persistent chemicals we’ve ever created” as the bonds within them take an immense amount of energy to break.
Actually, I take that back. The worst part is how ubiquitous PFAS are. They’re in furniture, rugs, textiles, outdoor gear, cardboard, food packaging, drinking water and now… rainwater! This scares me because once a substance enters into the water cycle, it enters everything. Now that PFAS are in the rain, they’re in the oceans, the soil, the food we eat, the air we breathe and inevitably us.
PFAS are a man-made horror completely within our comprehension, and our knowledge makes them all the more horrific. World governments must act now to halt all production of PFAS and clean up the mess that massive, environmentally-cataclysmic conglomerates have created.
The EPA claims to have “accelerated the pace of research and actions needed to tackle the PFAS crisis and protect American communities,” but will those actions come fast enough? Likely not, as the PFAS in drinking water, soil and food products have likely already begun to affect the same communities that the EPA is looking to protect. Notably, in 2019, the very same EPA allowed 40 new PFAS to be made despite the myriad well-documented risks associated with the chemicals. One particular PFA, a reactant known as 647-42-7, increased pup mortality and increased adult death rate in highly unethical tests on rats. But, in defiance of all logic and morality, between four and 40 million pounds of this compound were produced by DuPont in 2015 alone. Given their track record on PFAS, I don’t have much faith in the EPA’s claim that they are doing all they can to help Americans. The recent news that PFAS is in our rainwater could give the EPA the jolt they need to create change, but I seriously doubt that.
One solution to the PFAS crisis (yes it’s a crisis), is creating substitute chemicals and phasing out PFAS for those substitutes. I have good news: DuPont tried that! They created GenX as a replacement for PFOA (also known as C8), which was used in the production of Teflon until 2013. PFOA increases the risk of cancer, so its successor shouldn’t, right? Wrong! DuPont filed more than a dozen reports of “substantial risk of injury to health or the environment,” including causing cancer in highly unethical tests on rats. DuPont will obviously face no consequences for producing these chemicals, poisoning the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people or for all of the environmental damage that the PFAS they produce have caused and will cause.
To make a dent in the PFAS problem, all PFAS production must be stopped. There shouldn’t be any compensation for the companies that will forcefully have production stopped; they’ve known about the health risks for decades and have continued production in spite of them. Momentous clean-up efforts are needed, possibly with PFAS-eating microbes that found success in Wisconsin, even though PFAS is known to have “poor reversibility” after initial environmental exposure. Poorer communities must receive help first because, as with most environmental issues, they are most impacted.
The question that’s on my mind is “what happens now?” PFAS are in insecticides, wildlife, rainwater, me as I’m writing this article and you as you’re reading this article. I think that PFAS poisoning will be our generation’s lead poisoning. Everyone will be affected, everyone will suffer and nobody will receive any punishment for the destruction of an entire generation’s health. I shudder at the thought of a PFAS-contaminated future, and I will continue drinking water exclusively out of my BRITA filtered bottle, for all the good that’ll do me.