Part 4: PFAS: How Do They Travel in the Environment

Invisibly, silently — the chemicals in PFAS reach far into our lives; from drinking water in wells in our backyards, to the polar ice of the Arctic, we now know the depth and breadth of their reach.

Listen to Rainer Lohmann, a University of Rhode Island oceanographer with a chemical focus, and lead researcher for STEEP — Sources, Transport, Exposure & Effects of PFAS — and learn how PFAS travel, and endanger us all. The story, says Lohmann, is that the “forever chemicals,” found in fire retarding foams, and a range of household items, leach into our drinking water, wells and public supplies alike.

That’s the main concern, says Lohmann, in “Forever Chemicals: PFAS – How Do They Travel in  the Environment?” is the fourth of an eight-part STEEP video shorts series, “Silent Chemicals, Loud Science,” that explores problems posed by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), explains how STEEP science is shedding light on the issues, and offers practical and positive steps for making our daily lives safer.

There are other ways that the chemicals reach us, too. Some PFAS escape our water repellent clothing, coated pots and pans, and treated pizza boxes,and touch our fingers and make their way to our mouths. Others rise into the atmosphere, and travel near and far. It’s why high levels of the chemicals are found in the Arctic, and in ocean waters.

“We’re looking at hundreds of tons of these compounds in the Arctic,” says Lohmann, who is pursuing his in-depth study of PFAS via STEEP, a partnership project of the URI Coastal Institute to understand, analyze, and address just how harmful PFAS are to people and the environment.

He compares the level of contamination to the kind associated in earlier decades with PCBs, another kind of chemical group found to harm and pollute water resources and the environment, and damage the health of animals and humans alike. “There are similar amounts of both.”

More Videos