Unsafe levels of PFAS contaminate global water sources, study finds

By Shannon Kelleher

A large part of the world’s surface waters and groundwater contains toxic PFAS chemicals at levels higher than regulators consider safe for drinking water, according to a new analysis of data from more than 45,000 water samples collected from around the world.  

The data points to Australia, China, Europe and North America as hotspots for contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), although the authors suggest this may be skewed due to higher levels of sampling in these regions.

The findings, which were published April 8 in the journal Nature Geoscience, come as regulators in the United States prepare to set the first enforceable drinking water limits for certain types of PFAS. Many US states and other countries have already set regulations for PFAS in drinking water.

“I was surprised to find out the large fraction of source waters that are above drinking water advisory recommendations,” Denis O’Carroll, an engineering professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia and an author of the study, said in a press release. 

The number of samples considered unsafe was higher in countries that have stricter PFAS drinking water guidelines and regulations. In Canada, which has one of the strictest recommendations for PFAS in drinking water, 69% of groundwater samples had levels that surpassed that country’s threshold, while only 6% of samples from the European Union failed to meet its criteria.