PFAS posing threat to wildlife, scientists say

Wildlife exposure to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) poses added added threats to species already struggling to adapt to habitat loss and harmful climate change, a new paper warns.

In a discussion paper published Tuesday in Science of the Total Environment, scientists wrote that there is enough evidence of the toxicity of persistent chemicals such as PFAS in humans to cause substantial concern about the same chemicals’ impacts on wildlife. Considering toxic chemicals’ health harms to wildlife is especially important, they write, as multiple pressures cause steep drops in biodiversity worldwide.

“There’s an incredible body of scientific evidence linking PFAS to health harms in humans, and this should really serve as an indicator of the potential health harms that may be occurring in wildlife globally,” said David Andrews, a co-author on the paper and a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental advocacy group.

PFAS are commonly used for their stain- and water-resistant properties and have been used for years as a common ingredient in firefighting foam and many household products. Almost all US residents have PFAS in their blood, and the chemicals contaminate water systems serving millions of people nationwide. PFAS are abundant in the natural environment, as well: According to one analysis by the Waterkeeper Alliance, over 80% of natural waterways are contaminated with the chemicals.

Toxic across taxa
There are thousands of types of PFAS, and scientists have found evidence that many can impair the immune system and spur developmental and reproductive problems, as well as cause thyroid and hormone disorders, liver problems, cancers, and nervous system effects.

“What we know [about health harms] in humans indicates that this is a threat to wildlife species globally,” said Andrews.