Alarming toxic ‘forever chemicals’ found in animals’ blood – study

Analysis says hundreds of animals are contaminated with dangerous compounds linked to cancer and other health problems

Hundreds of animal species across the globe from ticks to whales have blood contaminated with toxic PFAS, a new analysis of previous peer-reviewed research shows.

Though the analysis does not aim to reveal how the exposure to PFAS affects wildlife, anecdotal evidence in some of the previous studies show the chemicals are likely sickening animals.

The analysis was compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit that tracks PFAS contamination and developed an interactive map that shows which animal species were studied, where they were analyzed, and the levels and types of PFAS found in their bodies.

Researchers have found the chemicals in a range of species such as scorpions, pandas, Siberian tigers, turtles, horses, dogs, plankton, sea lions, wild boar, otters and oysters. The breadth of the contamination is “sobering”, said David Andrews, a senior scientist with the EWG.

“It has taken six decades of research on humans to really understand how these chemicals impact our biology in so many different ways … and there’s no reason to believe those same impacts are not also occurring in wildlife,” Andrews said.

PFAS are a class of about 12,000 chemicals often used to make thousands of consumer products resistant to water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down, and they are linked to cancer, liver disease, kidney stress, fetal complications and other serious health problems.

Federal data shows that nearly all Americans’ blood is contaminated with the compounds, but research on wildlife has been scattered until the EWG analysis aggregated it.

The highly mobile chemicals accumulate and continuously cycle through the environment because they do not break down, and they can be carried long distances through the atmosphere. That means even animals in remote parts of the world that are far from industrial sources, such as penguins in Antarctica or polar bears in the Arctic, can be contaminated with high levels of PFAS.

Researchers have found about 120 kinds of PFAS compounds in animals’ blood, though that figure is likely higher because limits on testing capabilities make it difficult to identify many of the chemicals.

The impact on animals’ health remains unclear, but last year researchers in North Carolina found autoimmune disorders similar to lupus in alligators living in water contaminated by a nearby PFAS plant owned by chemical manufacturer Chemours. Researchers also found evidence of immune system issues in north Pacific sea turtles.

“All this research has been done, yet the next step still needs to happen – this should be a call for much greater restriction,” Andrews said. “It’s a clear indication that no more of this contamination should be going out into the environment.”

• This article was amended on 22 February 2023. Penguins are in Antarctica, not the Arctic as an earlier version said.


Tom Perkins

The GuardianTramp

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