COLORADO SPRINGS — Rainwater, even in the most remote places on Earth, is unsafe to drink due to levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ that are unsafe for long-term human consumption, according to a new study.

Hazardous pollutants known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been found at such elevated levels in environments around the world that scientists say they have exceeded safety guidelines.

PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ due to the slow breakdown of chemicals over time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PFAS are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, organ damage and reproductive health problems.

The new study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, was led by Ian Cousins, a professor of environmental science at Stockholm University in Sweden. Cousin and his team of scientists tested four types of PFAS – perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) – and analyzed a variety of different measurements. The study concluded that levels of PFAS in rainwater exceeded the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory levels for drinking water.

A compilation of data dating back to 2010 showed that “even in Antarctica or the Tibetan plateau, the levels in the rainwater are above the drinking water guidelines,” Cousin said.

These two regions cited in the study have PFAS levels 14 times greater than guidelines set by the EPA.

Cousins added that PFAS were now “so persistent” and ubiquitous that they will never disappear from the planet.

“The global spread of these four [PFAS] in the atmosphere has led to the planetary boundary for chemical pollution being exceeded,” the study stated.

A planetary boundary refers to a central paradigm for evaluating Earth’s capacity to absorb the impact of human activity. The high environmental persistence of plastic pollution and its “poor reversibility,” is believed to contribute to a range of adverse effects.

According to the EPA, once ingested, PFAS accumulate in the body. Exposure can lead to problems with fertility, developmental delays in children, increased risks of obesity, certain cancers (prostate, kidney and testicular) and increased cholesterol levels.

“We have made the planet inhospitable to human life by irreversibly contaminating it now so that nothing is clean anymore. And to the point that’s it’s not clean enough to be safe,” Cousin claimed.

Cousins’ study also cited that PFAS drinking water guidelines have progressively decreased over the last 22 years. In June 2022, the EPA announced water health advisories for PFOA and PFOS of 4 pg/L and 20 pg/L. The EPA’s previous advisories were 70 ng/L for the sum of concentrations of PFOS and PFOA. As a result of this decrease, the study said that international drinking water guidelines for PFAS are now close to, or even lower than levels in precipitation.