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Growing concerns over elevated PFAS levels in the global water supply

Updated: Apr 27

Growing concerns over elevated PFAS levels in the global water supply

Researchers from the University of New South Wales suggest that the future impact of PFAS in the environment may be underestimated. Recent studies indicate that PFAS (commonly known as 'forever chemicals') levels surpass drinking water standards in various global water sources.

In an international research endeavor published in Nature Geoscience, the team evaluated PFAS contamination levels in surface and groundwater worldwide, revealing that a significant portion of global water sources exceeds safe PFAS drinking limits.

Denis O’Carroll, the Senior Author of the study and a Professor of Engineering at UNSW, remarked on the findings, stating, “Many of our water sources surpass regulatory PFAS limits. While we were already aware of PFAS pervasiveness in the environment, I was taken aback by the substantial proportion of water sources exceeding drinking water advisory thresholds."

“In some instances, this exceeds 50 percent,” O’Carroll added.

The study involved scrutinizing PFAS measurements from diverse global sources, including government publications, databases, and peer-reviewed literature, amassing over 45,000 data points spanning approximately two decades.

Furthermore, the researchers identified "elevated concentrations" of PFAS in Australia, with numerous locations exceeding recommended drinking water levels.

O’Carroll emphasized that while PFAS traces are detected in source water like dams, they are absent in some drinking water depending on what treatment processes is used at reducing chemical content, including PFAS.

“However, some water providers, such as Sydney Water, do not routinely monitor the broad spectrum of PFAS potentially present in drinking water,” O’Carroll explained. “While drinking water remains largely safe, it's crucial to monitor PFAS levels and ensure data accessibility.”

The study underscored that current PFAS pollution in global water resources might exceed previous estimates, partly attributed to limited monitoring and regulation of the thousands of PFAS compounds in existence and higher-than-anticipated PFAS levels in consumer goods.

O’Carroll highlighted the presence of an "unknown quantity" of PFAS in the environment, especially in commercial products like clothing and food packaging, suggesting an underestimation of the environmental impact posed by PFAS.

Moving forward, the team aims to quantify PFAS levels from commercial products in the environment, develop technologies to degrade PFAS in drinking water systems, and create predictive models to track PFAS movement in the environment, with completion expected by 2026.

O’Carroll cautioned both manufacturers and consumers to exercise vigilance when using PFAS-containing products, advocating for prudent chemical usage.

“We must use these chemicals judiciously. Their availability does not justify indiscriminate usage,” O’Carroll concluded.



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