PFAS, Perpetual Chemicals Endanger Endangered Species

The environmental organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) warns about the dangerous increase in PFAS levels in such iconic species as polar bears, tigers, and pandas, many of them with their reduced, vulnerable and endangered populations.

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LatinAmerican Post | Julián Andrés Pastrana Cuéllar

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Leer en español: PFAS, los químicos perpetuos ponen en peligro a las especies en vía de extinción

A new threat looms over wildlife worldwide: PFAS contamination, also known as perpetual chemicals. At least, that's how it emerges from a study carried out by EWG that has revealed this severe problem. According to this organization, at least a hundred investigations indicate that traces of PFAS have been detected in fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and large and small mammals. Polar bears, tigers, monkeys, pandas, and dolphins, along with 330 other species, would be affected by these harmful substances.

But what are PFAS? According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances are chemical agents manufactured and used in many industries worldwide since the middle of the last century. They are called "perpetual" because they are agents that do not degrade upon entering ecosystems and the human body but accumulate, becoming very persistent in the long term.

PFAS also Affect Humans

It has been proven that exposure to these substances can cause effects on human health, including suppression of the immune system, reduced effectiveness of vaccines, increased cholesterol, problems in the reproductive system and development, damage to the liver and kidneys, low birth weight, and thyroid hormone disturbance. In addition, it poses a high risk of suffering from some types of cancer. Animal tests have revealed the formation of tumors from contact with these chemicals.

It should be added that according to the EPA, humans can be contaminated with perpetual chemicals in their workplaces if they are production plants or industries that use PFAS, as well as through the consumption of food packaged in materials that contain these agents, products commercial household appliances, drinking water, and living organisms such as fish and animals.

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PFAS: A Global Problem

Based on existing studies on PFAS, EWG has concluded that these dangerous substances are present worldwide, contaminating air, water sources, and soils, which means that animals and humans are exposed to severe damage.

Last January, EWG released a map showing areas within the United States where perpetual trace chemicals have been found in freshwater fish and local wildlife, which, considering the high persistence of these chemicals, could reflect that in other countries, the situation is similar.

This is especially serious since, based on what was exposed by EWG, the health effects caused by PFAS also affect endangered species. These species, along with the contamination with these chemicals, must face other threats to their survival, such as loss of habitat and damage to their ecosystems, often caused by industrial development.

According to estimates by this organization, more than 40,000 industrial pollutants may be dumping PFAS into US ecosystems. Municipal landfills, wastewater treatment plants, airports, and places where firefighting foams containing these perpetual chemicals have been used would be responsible for their discharge into surface waters.

How to Remedy this Situation?

Faced with this phenomenon, the solution would lie in urgently adopting regulatory actions at the national and international levels aimed at protecting wildlife from contamination by these harmful chemical agents.

In this regard, the EWG explains that US federal agencies have committed to curbing PFAS discharges into the environment; however, several of these initiatives have been delayed, making their future effectiveness questionable. For this reason, certain states of the United States are not waiting for answers from the federal government but are facing this problem themselves.

On the other hand, the United States Environmental Protection Agency mentions that some PFAS are no longer manufactured in this territory, thanks to phase-out plans. One of them is the Perfluorooctanoic Acid Management Program. This initiative committed eight major chemical manufacturers to progressively eliminate these substances' use and their emission in their respective plants. However, these perpetual chemicals, such as PFOA and PFOS, are still generated in other countries, so they can reach the United States by importing products that contain them. On the other hand, this type of measurement and study must also be implemented in greater depth in other areas of the planet.

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