Interactive map depicts extent of worldwide wildlife exposure to ‘forever chemicals’


Researchers argue that humans are playing a key role in spreading the harmful effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS), which are found in wildlife in all corners of the world. David Andrews, a scientist with the Environmental Working Group said that PFAS pollution was not only a concern for humans. “It’s a problem for species across the globe.

Andrews is the first author of a new peer-reviewed paper, published in Science of the Total Environment and released alongside the interactive map.

The map provides a significant update from a previous version released by the Environmental Working Group in February — and includes nearly double the number of polluted species. The researchers combed more than 200 scientific studies to find 120 unique PFAS compounds across more than 600 species on all continents. There are thousands of different types of PFAS. These synthetic compounds are notorious for their ability persist in both the body and the environment. These so-called “forever chemicals” are linked to cancers and other illnesses. They are also found in many household products such as nonstick cookware, cosmetics, and waterproof clothing. The researchers noted that PFAS compounds were found in 625 species, a significant increase from the February estimate of 330 species. However, they cautioned that this could be an underestimate. They explained that the absence of PFAS in some countries is not because of contamination but due to lack of test results. The researchers wrote in an accompanying paper that “there is no place on earth that appears to be untouched by PFAS pollution.” The paper, which draws its conclusions from other peer-reviewed studies on PFAS and human health, argues that studies of PFAS’s effects on wildlife could provide important insights.

Among the studies cited is a look at the immune response of North Carolina alligators that associated elevated PFAS levels with heightened occurrence of skin lesions.

Another study found that hawksbill sea turtles — critically endangered animals that live in the North Pacific — were vulnerable to the impacts of PFAS exposure even prior to hatching from their eggs. Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group said that there are countless species and locations around the world which are probably contaminated, but haven’t been tested. The interactive map allows users to see the location and abundance of many wildlife species, including birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. It also shows large mammals, such as horses, polar bears and cats, as well small mammals. The researchers have noted that some of these animals were already classified as endangered or threatened. “The wildlife map does not represent an exhaustive list of animal studies, but rather a collection of those that have been published over the last few years,” Andrews explained.

“PFAS are ubiquitous,” he added.

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