Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of human-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and the most extensively studied of these chemicals.
Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a host of adverse health effects, including thyroid hormone disruption and cancer.
PFAS compounds can be found in such things as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets, water-repellent outdoor gear, and food packaging, like fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags.
According to a new study, researchers from North Carolina State University have found PFAS substances in every step of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River food chain, even though the river doesn’t have a known industrial input of these compounds.
The team collected water, sediment, algae, plant, insect, fish, crayfish, and mollusk samples at five sites along the river and analyzed them for 14 different PFAS compounds. Nearly every sample tested contained PFAS compounds. Biofilm contained the largest concentrations of 10 of the 14 PFAS compounds measured. Insects, which primarily eat biofilm, had the greatest accumulation of PFAS compounds of all the living taxa the researchers sampled.
When PFAS compounds are present at every step of the food chain, the compounds accumulate at each step leading to greater concentrations in animals that sit higher on the food chain – including humans. This is known as biomagnification.
Studies like this that reveal how prevalent PFAS can be within ecosystems without an industrial input highlight the need for further research into how these compounds affect the environment and human health.
PFAS present throughout the Yadkin-Pee Dee river food chain
Photo, posted May 24, 2011, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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