Today, poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also called ‘Forever Chemicals’ as they do not break down in the environment, are present all around us, even in every product we use in our daily routine. And according to a recent study, scientists have found very high PFAS levels in water near-Arctic, thousands of miles away from Europe, in the aftermath of increasing melting pace of Arctic ice, and release of these chemicals in the environment from them.
How melting of snow is responsible for chemical release?
The Arctic does not originate PFAS but they get settled in the Arctic. Humans use forever chemicals in every other product, even in pizza boxes. So when these chemicals are exposed to the air they get trapped in Arctic ice floes.
The study published in Environmental Science & Technology from Lancaster University in the UK tells that the PFAS concentration is directly proportional to the salinity of the water. Therefore, a briny sea implies more chemical concentration. With the rise in the Earth’s temperature, melting and freezing of ice occur due to which the PFAS get packed into tiny pools in the Arctic.
Crispin Halsall, an environmental chemist at Lancaster University in the UK, says,
“The changing nature of sea ice, with earlier and erratic periods of thaw, could be altering the processing and release of pollutants alongside key nutrients, which in turn affects biota at the base of the marine food web.”
What are the consequences?
PFAS are toxic for humans as well as animals and their release in the food chain could be fatal. Mostly, these chemicals are found in the food chain and attach to proteins for easy movement in the environment. Long compounds like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) lead to liver damage and fetus disruption.
These chemicals usually sit in brine and as the brine gets older they become more concentrated and toxic. And when the brine on the ice starts to melt these chemicals move around and mix with the melting snow. Microbes are also exposed to high chemical levels as they like to live on brine channels.
The young ice in the Arctic contains a lot of mobile brine and will further contaminate the snow in the coming years.
We need to reduce the contact of organisms at the bottom of the Arctic food chain with ice. Concluding the study the researchers said,
“More controlled experiments, together with careful observational studies in the field, are now required to understand these complex yet potentially important processes, particularly with regard to chemical exposure to organisms at the base of the marine food web.”
In a similar news, we reported how Amazon Rainforest is now becoming Source of CO2 instead of sink.