Arctic: Climate change has revealed another giant problem

The Arctic is a ticking bomb, British experts are warning. Climate change has caused dangerous chemicals to seep into the ocean waters from the area surrounding the North Pole in increasing quantities. What are PFAS and do we have anything to fear?

A warming climate – and the resulting melting glaciers – means there are a number of literally pressing problems for humanity to deal with as soon as possible. Unfortunately, scientists are adding another to the already long list of problems, namely perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS – from the English per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

The latter have been used since the 1940s. Due to their hydro- and lipophobic properties, they are suitable for a wide range of applications: from making leak-proof breakfast paper to being an ingredient in fire-fighting foam. As you can guess, these compounds are not of natural origin and pose a threat to the environment. What is more, when released into the atmosphere, they remain there for a very long time. In the world of science they are called “eternal chemicals” for a reason.

Perfluoroalkyl substances over time settle in the north of the globe. Melting glaciers, mainly caused by human activity, are not able to stop them. Dangerous compounds end up in the waters of the Arctic Ocean. As scientists at Britain’s Lancaster University argue in their disturbing study, it’s only a matter of time before they become an integral part of the food chain.

Glacjoblogia: By saving glaciers, we save ourselves

“The changing nature of sea ice, with earlier and irregular periods of thaw, may affect the processing and release of pollutants along with key nutrients,” – alerts Crispin Halsall quoted by Science Alert.

PFAS
could not only devastate animal life in the far north. It is only a matter of time before the poisonous compounds reach human habitats, even indirectly. There is no shortage of data confirming their adverse – to put it mildly – impact on the human body. They are particularly dangerous for pregnant women, because they cause damage to the fetus.

The British found that the “young” ice, now dominant in the Arctic region, about a year old, promotes concentration and easier release of PFAS. The problem wouldn’t be as big – and as pressing – if it weren’t for the express rate at which glaciers are melting.

Scientists no longer have the strength to argue that human activity has led to it. They prefer to concentrate on banning, in the near future, the use of perfluoroalkyl substances. The manufacturers of food packaging – and more – need to be convinced of this now.

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