A study by Lancaster University has found that seawater close to melting Arctic ice contains high concentrations of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Water samples collected from Arctic ice floes show PFAS levels two times higher than samples from the North Sea. The region under investigation lies far from the most populated areas of Europe, leading to the conclusion that the chemicals were not caused by surface water flow into the ocean.
The study, led by the University of Lancaster’s Dr. Jack Garnett and Professor Crispin Halsall, has shown that the chemicals traveled by air and not by sea. Previous studies have shown that PFAS can travel through the air to polar regions, where they get concentrated and accumulate in falling snow. As a result, the Arctic region’s ice sheet has a high concentration of PFAS that are currently being released into the seawater.
PFAS comprise a large number of chemicals that have many industrial uses. Some of the uses include the manufacture of fluoropolymers like Teflon and water repellants used in food packaging and textile clothing manufacturing. These chemicals are key in many production processes, but they have the downside of being non-degradable. This non-degradability has earned PFAS the title of “forever chemicals.”
One group of PFAS, the perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), is known to be toxic to humans and animals. They are also the longest-lasting in nature. Being highly mobile chemicals, PFAS can find its way into the food chain easily. They have a protein binding characteristic which makes them dangerous to both humans and wild animals. These chemicals are associated with conditions such as liver damage in mammals and may also lead to kidney problems.
The researchers say that the high levels of PFAS being witnessed are due to increased melting over the Arctic. In recent years, the Arctic has been experiencing accelerated rates of ice melt due to global warming. The researchers warn that the continued release of these chemicals may lead to their concentration in seawater.
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