What are Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

A recent research discovered that rainwater from many locations across the world is contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAs), which are known as "forever chemicals" due to their ability to persist in the environment, rainfall, and soil for long periods of time.

What exactly are per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAs)?

  • Man-made compounds used to manufacture nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothes, stain-resistant textiles, cosmetics, firefighting forms, and a variety of other grease, water, and oil-resistant items.
  • During its manufacture and usage, may move to the soil, water, and air.
  • What exactly are perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances?
  • Because most PFAs do not degrade, they persist in the environment for extended periods of time. Some of these can accumulate in humans and animals after repeated exposure to the substances.

What are the risks of PFAs?

  • Reduced fertility, developmental consequences in children, interaction with body hormones, elevated cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of some malignancies
  • Long-term low-level PFA exposure can make it harder for individuals to produce antibodies after being immunised against certain illnesses.

Is it necessary to be concerned about PFAs in rainwater in India?

  • While the recently released study article did not contain investigations of samples obtained in India, the nature of PFAs and the vast geographical breadth of samples and PFAs indicate that the results may be extended to India.

How do these chemicals get out of rainwater?

  • While there is no known way for extracting and removing PFAs from the atmosphere, there are several viable, albeit costly, methods for removing them from rainwater collected using various rainwater collecting technologies.
  • One way to do this would be to use a filtration system with activated carbon.
    • The activated carbon will need to be removed and replaced regularly.
    • Also, the old contaminated material must be destroyed.
  • The researchers first placed a PFA compound in a solvent called DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide).
    • They then mixed it with sodium hydroxide (lye) in water.
    • They found that when this mixture was heated up to boiling temperature, the PFA compound began to degrade.
    • However, this method doesn’t work for all PFAs and only works for certain PFA subsets.