It’s hard to stay positive about the world when “rainwater everywhere is undrinkable” barely makes a news cycle
— fluoroquin (@freyquency) August 14, 2022
“Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.” ~ John Updike
Scrolling through my emails at the start of the day, a news headline yanked my attention and held it for ransom:
“Rainwater everywhere on Earth unsafe to drink due to ‘forever chemicals’, study finds”
What the f*ck? Seriously, this has to be some kind of joke, I thought. What is a world if we cannot rely on the pure source of the substance required by all living things to survive?
I dove a little deeper into the depths of the story, hoping the headline was some type of clickbait strategy to sell me something.
Sadly, the study at the heart of the headline was supported by robust, evidence-based research led by environmental scientists and experts from leading universities in Sweden and Switzerland. Published early last month by Environmental Science and Technology Journal, the study found that rainwater samples from across the globe have unsafe levels of what it refers to as “forever chemicals”—otherwise known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), like the type found in food packaging, cookware, and cosmetics.
Basically, this means that hazardous types of chemicals leaching from plastic have been found in unsafe levels in rainwater specimens tested from all corners of the world.
Even the rainwater in remote areas of Tibet and Antarctica is deemed undrinkable.
Reading through the research report I felt an enormous wave of sadness sweep over my body and spirit. I thought back to when I was a child, the age my children are now, and how we would grab our cups every time it started raining or hailing and try to “catch” the droplets from the sky, seeing whose cup could fill up the most.
Naturally, we would also drink the water once we were done—the pure taste of rain like no other water we could drink from a bottle. I also thought back to the rainwater tank in my grandparents backyard that we used to take turns filling up a water jug and bringing it up to the kitchen as the household’s primary source of drinking water.
Is this something our kids will no longer be able to do? What about running out in the rain with mouths wide open? Is this also off limits?
According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the levels of at least two forms of PFAS in rainwater, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), “often greatly exceed” the safe levels in drinking water.
I found myself asking more questions I couldn’t answer. Can we reverse the impact of the chemicals and toxicity levels in rainwater to enable it to be drinkable in the years to come? If Earth has surpassed its safe zone for plastic contamination, is there hope for chemical-free rainwater in our future?
Am I naïve to believe that there has to be a way to undo what has already been done? I am no expert in this field but I’d love if anyone who’s reading this article and knows better can contribute their expertise and tell me what I can say to my kids when they ask why the water available from the sky is not safe for them to drink anymore…
E.P.A. to Designate PFAS, or ‘Forever Chemicals,’ as Hazardous
Pollution: ‘Forever chemicals’ in rainwater exceed safe levels
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