Toxic PFAS chemicals in the ocean are transported to the air by waves hitting the beach. This phenomenon is a major source of pollution, according to a new Stockholm University study.
The findings, published in Environmental Science & Technology explain partially how PFAS can get into the atmosphere, and eventually precipitation. The study, which used samples from two Norwegian locations, also concluded that PFAS pollution could impact large areas of Europe inland and other continents as well.
Bo Sha, a researcher at Stockholm University and co-author of the study, stated that the results are both fascinating and concerning.
PFAS is a class of chemicals that are used in dozens of industries to make products resistant to water, stain, and heat. Although the compounds are very effective, they can cause kidney disease, cancer, birth defects and liver problems as well as other serious diseases.
The study reveals how chemicals move once they are released into the environment. PFAS do not naturally break down and so they continue to move through ground, water, and air. This has led to them being called “forever chemicals”. They have been found everywhere, from Antarctica penguin eggs to the Arctic polar bears.
The Stockholm research team collected aerosol samples from Andya, an Arctic island and Birkenes (a city in southern Norway), between 2018 and 2020. It found that there was a correlation in the levels of sodium ions and PFAS, which are markers for sea spray. Chemical transfer occurs when air bubbles burst in waves crash. The study found that PFAS can travel thousands upon kilometers via sea spray in the atmospheric before returning to land.
Some regulators and the chemical sector have long claimed that dumping toxic chemicals into the ocean is a safe way to dispose of them. The study concluded that this approach isn’t safe because chemicals are returned back to land, which can lead to contamination of drinking water sources.
Matthew Salter, a coauthor of the study and a researcher at Stockholm University, stated that the common belief was that PFAS would eventually be washed into the oceans, where they would remain diluted over the course of decades. It turns out that PFAS can be re-emitted into the air, transported long distances, and then deposited on land.