Winds can carry PFAS pollution several miles away from manufacturing facilities, according to a new study.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of synthetic compounds used in a variety of industrial processes and found in dozens of household items. Previous studies have linked the toxins with a variety of health problems, including cancer and high cholesterol.
Surveys have revealed elevated levels of PFAS in water systems and sources in towns and cities all over the United States. And while manufacturers have phased out PFAS, research suggests the compounds synthesized as replacements are also harmful.
To get a better sense of how PFAS make their way into the environment, researchers at Ohio State University and the Environmental Protection Agency collected and analyzed dozens of water samples collected at sites surrounding a fluoropolymer production facility in Parkersburg, West Virginia. “We took water samples from surface waters at different distances in the predominant direction downwind from the manufacturing facility,” researcher Linda Weavers, professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, told UPI in an email. “The concentrations revealed an exponential decrease with distance, consistent with what we would expect from PFAS contamination due to wind transport of PFAS air emissions at the facility.”
However, the results — published this week in the journal Environmental Science Technology — revealed elevated PFAS concentrations several miles from the manufacturing facility.
“Seeing that these compounds are measured much farther from the manufacturing facility than identified previously, it improves our understanding of which communities may be impacted by these compounds,” Weavers said. In 2013, the facility stopped using a common PFAS compound called perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, swapping it out for hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid, HFPO-DA, the toxicity of which hasn’t been well-studied. Researchers found small concentrations of both PFAS and and HFPO-DA at sites as far as 30 miles from the manufacturing facility.
“The presence of high levels of PFOA in surface waters years after it was phased out of use at the facility indicates it sticks around and continues to be a source of contamination for a very long time,” Weavers said.
In followup studies, Weavers and her research partners plan to test for the presence of PFAS in the air.