EXPLAINED: What Are PFA Chemicals? Everything You Need To Know About “Forever Chemicals” That Contaminate Rainwater Globally

The issue of contaminated rainwater around the world is haunting environmentalists and environment-sensitive populations alike. One of the main culprits behind contaminated rainwater across the globe is per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also called “forever chemicals”. What are these PFAS, why are they called forever chemicals, and how harmful are they; know everything here!
What are PFAS?
What are PFAS?

PFAS and Rainwater Contamination: Oceans, rivers, and lakes have always borne the brunt of human activities for eons. However, human activities have not spared even rainwater. Here comes PFAS, the man-made chemicals that have tainted rainwater globally.


As per a recent study, rainwater from across the globe is contaminated. The reason found common in all the rainwater collection globally is the presence of “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” (PFAS). These are often called “forever chemicals” for a reason.


What Are These Forever Chemicals?

As per the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that are used in making fluoropolymer coatings, used in nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric, and firefighting forms. These chemicals are also used in making cosmetics and water-repellent clothing. Basically, these chemicals are used to make substances that resist water, grease, and oil. 


Why The Name “Forever Chemicals”?

The reason these man-made chemicals, the PFAS, are called forever chemicals is that most of these chemicals do not break down. The PFAS usually remain in the environment for prolonged periods of time. In some cases, these PFAS can also accumulate and build up in animals and humans if they are exposed to these chemicals.


Are PFAS Chemicals Harmful?

Yes. PFAS Chemicals are hazardous to health. It would be very wrong to consider these man-made chemicals harmless, as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mentions a myriad of health concerns that can be a result of exposure to PFAS. Some of these health risks include developmental effects in children, diminished fertility, changes in body hormones, and increased levels of cholesterol. Such chemicals may also sow seeds for certain types of cancers.


Additionally, recent research states that exposure to such chemicals for a long period may also lead to interference with the formation of antibodies after vaccination against various illnesses.


Is There A Reason To Worry For India?

Yes. The research does not include studies of Indian samples, the conclusion of the research can be extrapolated to India as well. This is because the rainwater levels are similar worldwide. Thus, the study results can be extrapolated to India as well. Also, it is never a bad idea to stay warned rather than regretting later. 

This brings us to the next aspect:


Can These Forever Chemicals Be Removed From Rainwater?

Unfortunately, there are possibly no methods to eradicate these hazardous chemicals completely from the atmosphere. However, the silver lining is that we do have methods to remove the PFAS from rainwater collected via rainwater harvesting techniques. Albeit, these methods are quite uncommon and expensive.


Such methods include the use of filtration systems with activated carbon. That isn’t enough, with this method also comes the need to replace these activated carbons from the filtration system.

Not to miss, the contaminated materials must also be destroyed so as to prevent further damage to the environment.


A Science.org report on a cheaper method to destroy PFAS has also been of great help to the United States Environmental Protection Agency researchers. At first, they placed a PFA compound in DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), a type of solvent. After this, they mix it well with lye (sodium hydroxide) in water. When heated to the boiling temperature, the PFA compound started to degrade from the mixture. 


Even though this method cannot be fruitful for all types of PFAS, some of these hazardous chemicals can still be destroyed. This research paves the way for further studies that may eventually lead to the eradication of such chemicals from the environment.

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