Forever Chemicals Detected in Great Lakes Rain, Study Reveals

by | May 20, 2024

This article is included in these additional categories:

PFAS Contamination in the Great Lakes: A Growing Concern

PFAS, the forever chemicals, present a persistent environmental challenge. Known for their stability and resistance to degradation, PFAS are pervasive globally in the air, water, and soil, which allows them to be transported throughout the water cycle, eventually infiltrating drinking water sources and precipitation.

A recent study published in Environmental Science & Technology has revealed that precipitation contributes similar amounts of PFAS to all five Great Lakes, although the rate at which these lakes eliminate PFAS varies significantly. Given the link between PFAS exposure and adverse health outcomes, understanding the distribution and impact of these chemicals is crucial for developing effective environmental policies.

Variability in PFAS Concentrations Across Different Media

The research, conducted by Marta Venier and her team at Indiana University, involved collecting 207 precipitation samples, 60 air samples, and 87 water samples from various sites around the Great Lakes between 2021 and 2022. The study aimed to assess the concentrations of 41 different PFAS types in these samples.

The findings indicate that PFAS concentrations in precipitation were relatively uniform across the sampling sites, suggesting that these compounds are present at similar levels irrespective of population density. However, air samples showed significant variability, with Cleveland exhibiting the highest median PFAS concentration, while Sleeping Bear Dunes had the lowest, demonstrating the influence of population density on airborne PFAS levels.

In lake water samples, Lake Ontario recorded the highest PFAS concentrations, followed by Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior. Notably, the levels of PFOS and PFOA have decreased compared to previous studies, while the concentration of PFBA, a replacement PFAS, remains high. This trend highlights the need for continued regulatory efforts.

Implications for Environmental Management and Policy

The study’s mass budget analysis revealed that atmospheric deposition from precipitation is the primary source of PFAS entering the Great Lakes, with sedimentation and outflow serving as key removal mechanisms. The northernmost lakes—Superior, Michigan, and Huron—are generally accumulating PFAS, whereas Lake Ontario is eliminating these compounds, and Lake Erie shows a steady state.

These findings have significant implications for environmental management and policy development. As the Great Lakes are a vital freshwater source for both the U.S. and Canada, ensuring their protection from PFAS contamination is paramount. The EPA’s recent designation of PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances, along with setting limits on their concentrations in drinking water, marks a critical step in addressing this issue.

Moving forward, the research underscores the importance of continuous monitoring and comprehensive data collection to better understand PFAS sources and behaviors. Enhanced regulatory measures and targeted mitigation strategies will be essential to manage and reduce the presence of these persistent pollutants in the Great Lakes and beyond.

Addressing Data Gaps and Enhancing Future Research

Despite the valuable insights provided by this study, several data gaps remain. There is a need for more comprehensive discharge data from tributaries and wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to better understand the full scope of PFAS contamination. Additionally, improving the understanding of PFAS sources and refining partitioning data in the air will enhance the robustness of PFAS cycling models in the Great Lakes.

Future research should focus on these areas to support ongoing efforts to manage PFAS contamination effectively. By addressing these gaps, policymakers and environmental managers can develop more informed and effective strategies to protect the Great Lakes and safeguard public health.

Additional articles you will be interested in.

Stay Informed

Get E+E Leader Articles delivered via Newsletter right to your inbox!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Share This