By Daisy Simmons
Nevada City, California. Amidst a historic pandemic and social unrest, watching the accelerating impacts of climate change on the silver screen could create a sense of helplessness – or deepen the resolve to act. Emphasizing the latter, "Resilient by Nature" was the official theme of the recent Wild & Scenic Film Festival, an entirely virtual affair this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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After ongoing pressure from environmental groups and Indigenous communities, Bank of America has said it will not finance any oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, making it the last major U.S. financial institution to do so.
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By Sharon Guynup
At this time of year, in Russia's far north Laptev Sea, the sun hovers near the horizon during the day, generating little warmth, as the region heads towards months of polar night. By late September or early October, the sea's shallow waters should be a vast, frozen expanse.
Comparison of autumn sea ice formation for the first half of October 2012 (the record year for Arctic sea ice extent loss) and in 2020 (second place for sea ice extent loss). The satellite record goes back to 1979. @Icy_Samuel, data provided by NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent on Oct. 25, 2020 was at a record low 5.613 million square kilometers for this date, surpassing the record set in 2019 of 6.174 million square kilometers. ChArctic NSIDC
The Arctic appears to be changing into an entirely new climate state due to rapid warming. The extent of sea ice in the late summer, when it reaches its minimum each year, has already entered a statistically different climate, with surface air temperatures and the number of days with rain instead of snow also beginning to transition. Simmi Sinha, ©UCAR
A polar bear prowls the Arctic shoreline. VisualHunt.com
A fire burning through northern forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in July 2020. Greenpeace International
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- Endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh has completed a 1 kilometer swim under the East Antarctic ice shelf.
- The feat was part of his campaign to secure a series of protected zones in the seas around the continent.
- He chose the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica to make his epic swim.
It's been 200 years since Russian explorer Admiral Bellingshausen discovered Antarctica. It's a frozen wilderness, and the East of the continent is the coldest place on Earth — but scientists say they are starting to see signs of ice loss even there.
‘The Polar Bear’<div id="b58db" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="649OD51580413675"><blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version="4" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"> <div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"> </div></div><p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B7thVdZpqdp/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_top">Lewis Pugh on Instagram: “At the end of my swim Senator Slava Fetisov from Russia was there to help me to safety. Slava was the the greatest ice hockey defenceman in…”</a></p> </div></blockquote></div><p>Pugh is the only person to have undertaken long-distance swims in all the world's oceans. At 50, he's a veteran of many icy adventures, including swimming over the North Pole during a brief break in the sea ice, and crossing a lake that formed on a glacier on <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Mount-Everest" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mount Everest</a>.</p><p>He was named one of the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/authors/lewis-pugh/" target="_blank">Young Global Leaders</a> and in 2013 was appointed as the <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/open-invitation-un-environment-patron-oceans-lewis-pugh-join-him-he-swims" target="_blank">United Nations' Patron of the Oceans</a>.</p><p>His ability to withstand extreme cold has earned him the nickname of "The Polar Bear."</p><p>Pugh's East Antarctic swim is part of his campaign to secure a series of Marine Protected Areas around the continent. Antarctica already has one of these zones, in the Ross Sea, but Pugh wants all the seas around the continent to be designated protection areas in order to stem the effects of climate change.</p><p>He has already visited Moscow to mark the anniversary of Admiral Bellinghausen's momentous discovery. And he plans to head to Beijing, London and Washington to persuade world leaders to increase protection for Antarctica.</p>
Warning to the World<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/B7sbK7vpWau/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="12" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:540px; min-width:326px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:16px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B7sbK7vpWau/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading" style=" background:#FFFFFF; line-height:0; padding:0 0; text-align:center; text-decoration:none; width:100%;" target="_blank"> <div style=" display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div></div></div><div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display:block; height:50px; margin:0 auto 12px; width:50px;"><svg width="50px" height="50px" viewBox="0 0 60 60" version="1.1" xmlns="https://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="https://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"><g stroke="none" stroke-width="1" fill="none" fill-rule="evenodd"><g transform="translate(-511.000000, -20.000000)" fill="#000000"><g><path d="M556.869,30.41 C554.814,30.41 553.148,32.076 553.148,34.131 C553.148,36.186 554.814,37.852 556.869,37.852 C558.924,37.852 560.59,36.186 560.59,34.131 C560.59,32.076 558.924,30.41 556.869,30.41 M541,60.657 C535.114,60.657 530.342,55.887 530.342,50 C530.342,44.114 535.114,39.342 541,39.342 C546.887,39.342 551.658,44.114 551.658,50 C551.658,55.887 546.887,60.657 541,60.657 M541,33.886 C532.1,33.886 524.886,41.1 524.886,50 C524.886,58.899 532.1,66.113 541,66.113 C549.9,66.113 557.115,58.899 557.115,50 C557.115,41.1 549.9,33.886 541,33.886 M565.378,62.101 C565.244,65.022 564.756,66.606 564.346,67.663 C563.803,69.06 563.154,70.057 562.106,71.106 C561.058,72.155 560.06,72.803 558.662,73.347 C557.607,73.757 556.021,74.244 553.102,74.378 C549.944,74.521 548.997,74.552 541,74.552 C533.003,74.552 532.056,74.521 528.898,74.378 C525.979,74.244 524.393,73.757 523.338,73.347 C521.94,72.803 520.942,72.155 519.894,71.106 C518.846,70.057 518.197,69.06 517.654,67.663 C517.244,66.606 516.755,65.022 516.623,62.101 C516.479,58.943 516.448,57.996 516.448,50 C516.448,42.003 516.479,41.056 516.623,37.899 C516.755,34.978 517.244,33.391 517.654,32.338 C518.197,30.938 518.846,29.942 519.894,28.894 C520.942,27.846 521.94,27.196 523.338,26.654 C524.393,26.244 525.979,25.756 528.898,25.623 C532.057,25.479 533.004,25.448 541,25.448 C548.997,25.448 549.943,25.479 553.102,25.623 C556.021,25.756 557.607,26.244 558.662,26.654 C560.06,27.196 561.058,27.846 562.106,28.894 C563.154,29.942 563.803,30.938 564.346,32.338 C564.756,33.391 565.244,34.978 565.378,37.899 C565.522,41.056 565.552,42.003 565.552,50 C565.552,57.996 565.522,58.943 565.378,62.101 M570.82,37.631 C570.674,34.438 570.167,32.258 569.425,30.349 C568.659,28.377 567.633,26.702 565.965,25.035 C564.297,23.368 562.623,22.342 560.652,21.575 C558.743,20.834 556.562,20.326 553.369,20.18 C550.169,20.033 549.148,20 541,20 C532.853,20 531.831,20.033 528.631,20.18 C525.438,20.326 523.257,20.834 521.349,21.575 C519.376,22.342 517.703,23.368 516.035,25.035 C514.368,26.702 513.342,28.377 512.574,30.349 C511.834,32.258 511.326,34.438 511.181,37.631 C511.035,40.831 511,41.851 511,50 C511,58.147 511.035,59.17 511.181,62.369 C511.326,65.562 511.834,67.743 512.574,69.651 C513.342,71.625 514.368,73.296 516.035,74.965 C517.703,76.634 519.376,77.658 521.349,78.425 C523.257,79.167 525.438,79.673 528.631,79.82 C531.831,79.965 532.853,80.001 541,80.001 C549.148,80.001 550.169,79.965 553.369,79.82 C556.562,79.673 558.743,79.167 560.652,78.425 C562.623,77.658 564.297,76.634 565.965,74.965 C567.633,73.296 568.659,71.625 569.425,69.651 C570.167,67.743 570.674,65.562 570.82,62.369 C570.966,59.17 571,58.147 571,50 C571,41.851 570.966,40.831 570.82,37.631"></path></g></g></g></svg></div><div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style=" color:#3897f0; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:550; line-height:18px;"> View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style="padding: 12.5% 0;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; margin-bottom: 14px; align-items: center;"><div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(0px) translateY(7px);"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; height: 12.5px; transform: rotate(-45deg) translateX(3px) translateY(1px); width: 12.5px; flex-grow: 0; margin-right: 14px; margin-left: 2px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(9px) translateY(-18px);"></div></div><div style="margin-left: 8px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 20px; width: 20px;"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 2px solid transparent; border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; transform: translateX(16px) translateY(-4px) rotate(30deg)"></div></div><div style="margin-left: auto;"> <div style=" width: 0px; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-right: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(16px);"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; flex-grow: 0; height: 12px; width: 16px; transform: translateY(-4px);"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-left: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(-4px) translateX(8px);"></div></div></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center; margin-bottom: 24px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 224px;"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 144px;"></div></div></a><p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;"><a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B7sbK7vpWau/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none;" target="_blank">A post shared by Lewis Pugh (@lewis.pugh)</a> on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2020-01-24T07:32:30+00:00">Jan 23, 2020 at 11:32pm PST</time></p></div></blockquote> <script async src="//www.instagram.com/embed.js"></script><p>Since the early 1900s, <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/why-are-glaciers-and-sea-ice-melting" target="_blank">glaciers around the world have been melting fast</a>, as temperatures have risen due to global warming.</p><p>This melting causes <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/sea-level-rise">sea levels to rise</a>, which increases coastal erosion and creates more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Together, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are the largest contributors to global sea level rises.</p><p>The East Antarctic, with ice sheets formed over millions of years and <a href="https://www.nature.com/news/2005/050516/full/050516-10.html" target="_blank">several kilometers thick</a> in places, has <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2832/more-glaciers-in-east-antarctica-are-waking-up/" target="_blank">long been considered the most stable part of the continent</a>.</p><p>But researchers say that is changing, <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2832/more-glaciers-in-east-antarctica-are-waking-up/" target="_blank">with glaciers starting to move more quickly</a>, which could indicate widespread shifts in the region.</p><p>"What is very clear to us from the science is that we now need to create a network of marine protected areas around Antarctica," says Pugh. "It's an amazing place."</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Net_Zero_Challenge.pdf" target="_blank">Net Zero Challenge</a> was launched during this year's Annual Meeting in Davos, challenging nations and corporations to do more to achieve the targets set out in the <a href="https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement" target="_blank">2015 Paris agreement</a>.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/this-man-swam-under-the-east-antarctic-ice-sheet-to-highlight-the-impact-of-climate-change-7774db9f93/" rel="noopener noreferrer">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Julia Conley
Climate scientists were aghast Monday at the news that David Legates, a University of Delaware professor who has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus that human activity is causing the climate crisis and has claimed that carbon dioxide emissions are beneficial, has been named by the Trump administration to a top leadership role at the federal government's climate research agency.
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The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to protections put in place 60 years ago, has remained a pristine oasis in the most remote section of Alaska. Now, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to end those protections and to lease the federal lands to oil and gas exploration, according to The New York Times.
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By Max G. Levy
In seabird after seabird, Anna Robuck found something concerning: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, lurking around vital organs.
Journeying Across the Globe<p>Coastal environments seem especially vulnerable to PFAS seeping from the <a href="https://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article235963052.html" target="_blank">chemical plants</a> and military bases <a href="https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2020/04/updated-map-suspected-and-confirmed-pfas-pollution-us-military-bases" target="_blank">responsible for heavy contamination</a>. <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/ccwagner" target="_blank">Charlotte Wagner</a>, a researcher at Harvard University studying the global transport of pollutants, says it's still unclear what fraction of PFAS pollutants remain contained at their source, and what fraction has already leached into other environments.</p><p>But the fact that they do spread — and far — is clear. They generally wind up in oceans, according to Wagner. And not just the ones nearby. <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15913661/" target="_blank">Studies</a> in the early 2000s showed that PFAS survived decades-long journeys from manufacturers to remote ocean basins without breaking down.</p><p>"The ocean is not this static pool or bathtub," she says. Large-scale ocean circulation moves pollutants huge distances across the globe. Some varieties of PFAS may degrade slightly over the course of years, until they convert into one of the more stable "terminal PFAS" subgroups, including PFAAs.</p>
Measuring Harm to Ocean Life<p>In North Carolina's Cape Fear River, striped bass carrying <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019334762" target="_blank">high levels of PFAS </a>showed distinct signs of impaired immune and liver function. But in the vastness of ocean water, can PFAS levels be high enough to cause harm?</p><p>"In recent years there have been increases in immune-based diseases in turtles and dolphins," says DeWitt. One of the most <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22109712/" target="_blank">well-studied</a> health effects of PFAS is immune dysfunction. Most experiments are limited to humans, rodents and chickens, but researchers are piecing together the role of PFAS in marine immune issues.</p><p>One study concluded that PFOS, a phased-out PFAS that still circulates today, triggers <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5831401/" target="_blank">"chronic immune activation</a>" in bottlenose dolphins. A similar link between PFOS and susceptibility to disease appeared in <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16955890/" target="_blank">sea otters</a>. Other research links multiple PFAS to hormonal changes in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2016.07.015" target="_blank">polar bear brains</a>. But these aquatic wildlife health studies are few and far between.</p><p>"PFAS in wildlife is kind of the <em>wild west</em>," says Robuck. "Wildlife are inherently difficult to study in a lot of ways."</p><p>Zeroing on the health effects for individual species is tricky because scientists lack baseline data about stress responses and pollutant levels. They have no choice but to presume consequences in wildlife based on hormonal, immune and reproductive effects in lab animals. For Robuck, that means judging how a pelican will respond to its measured PFAS levels according to health data collected from a chicken. "That's a really crappy comparison," she says.</p><p>In one sense, the method is conservative: Lab animals are well cared for, so their health effects may be a best-case scenario compared to the stressful baseline of wild animals' experience. But it also means we don't have an accurate sense of what dangerous thresholds are for most aquatic life — despite a parade of red flags.</p>
Endless Stream of Pollutants<p>Part of the problem is the sheer number of different compounds. Of the thousands of known PFAS, studies have only deduced health thresholds for a handful. Scientists screening their effects simply can't keep up with the pace.</p><p>The chemical compounds that fall under the PFAS umbrella are also not all the same. Some are long, bulky molecules; others are smaller and more agile. Some forms tend to naturally convert into others; others don't degrade whatsoever. Each molecule has the potential to be more toxic or bioaccumulative than the next. But for a lot of PFAS, Wagner says, scientists don't even have standardized methods of <em>detecting </em>them.</p><p>To make matters worse, even as some of the most dangerous chemicals are being phased out, companies are making alternatives. But they <a href="https://www.ewg.org/release/epa-genx-nearly-toxic-notorious-non-stick-chemicals-it-replaced" target="_blank">may not be any safer</a> than what they're replacing. And scientists have found these alternatives are also accumulating in the bodies of <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214158819300145?casa_token=6t17JUQM74gAAAAA:igHTxRV6z9RPhf1UNqwvbgD9iARSODj4WJtavRsmTbF6UUvn2P1YXirvBya2VC094wm8HMxb3A" target="_blank">fish and polar bears</a>.</p><p>"It seems that we haven't learned anything from the past," says Belén González-Gaya, an analytical chemist at the University of Basque Country in Spain. "We keep on substituting compounds [for] others without any knowledge of biological effects."</p><p><a href="https://www.ewg.org/experts/sydney-evans.php" target="_blank">Sydney Evans</a>, a research scientist for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, suggests that researchers shouldn't have to prove the health risks for thousands of similar compounds in order to warrant regulatory action. "The burden needs to be on these companies and manufacturers to prove their compounds are safe," she says.</p><p>And while there is much we don't know about the majority of PFAS, experts argue that we do know enough to assume they all share fundamental features: persistence, bioaccumulation and health risks. For this reason a group of scientists recently <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00255" target="_blank">published a call</a> for governments and companies to treat all PFAS, old and new, as a single hazardous group.</p><p>"It's really the only way that we can be ahead of the curve," says Wagner, who cowrote the article. "Rather than always realizing that a compound is toxic once it's already everywhere and we measure it on a remote ice-site somewhere in Greenland."</p><p>To shut off the flow of PFAS into the ocean, scientists say that manufacturers should phase out the chemicals and focus on proving safer alternatives.</p><p>With so many open questions, Robuck hopes to see research that more closely predicts threats to marine life — and by extension people, too.</p><p>"As humans, we rely on every natural resource under the sun," she says. "When we undercut a healthy environment, we undercut our own health."</p>
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By Carol Kwiatkowski
Like many inventions, the discovery of Teflon happened by accident. In 1938, chemists from Dupont (now Chemours) were studying refrigerant gases when, much to their surprise, one concoction solidified. Upon investigation, they found it was not only the slipperiest substance they'd ever seen – it was also noncorrosive and extremely stable and had a high melting point.
As PFAS are produced and used, they can migrate into soil and water. MI DEQ
Toxic Chemicals<p>A <a href="https://cen.acs.org/articles/83/i30/DuPont-Faces-Class-Action-Lawsuits.html" target="_blank">class-action lawsuit</a> brought this issue to national attention in 2005. Workers at a Parkersburg, West Virginia, DuPont plant joined with local residents to sue the company for releasing millions of pounds of one of these chemicals, known as PFOA, into the air and the Ohio River. Lawyers discovered that the company <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-duponts-worst-nightmare.html" target="_blank">had known as far back as 1961</a> that PFOA could harm the liver.</p><p>The suit was ultimately <a href="https://www.levinlaw.com/dupont-c8-litigation" target="_blank">settled in 2017</a> for $670 million, after <a href="http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an eight-year study</a> of tens of thousands of people who had been exposed. Based on <a href="http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/publications.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple scientific studies</a>, this review concluded that there was a probable link between exposure to PFOA and six categories of diseases: diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.</p><p>Over the past two decades, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-018-0405-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers</a> have shown that many PFAS are not only toxic – they also <a href="https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">don't fully break down in the environment</a> and have accumulated in the bodies of people and animals around the world. Some studies have <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheh.2019.10.008" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detected PFAS in 99% of people tested</a>. Others have <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emcon.2019.06.002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">found PFAS in wildlife</a>, including polar bears, dolphins and seals.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e62ff1326c2d51afc5f0856eb1ec3795"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JbHeE3YzeRA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Widespread and Persistent<p>PFAS are often called "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/these-toxic-chemicals-are-everywhere-and-they-wont-ever-go-away/2018/01/02/82e7e48a-e4ee-11e7-a65d-1ac0fd7f097e_story.html" target="_blank">forever chemicals</a>" because they don't fully degrade. They move easily through air and water, can quickly travel long distances and accumulate in sediment, soil and plants. They have also been found in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2018.06.009" target="_blank">dust</a> <a href="https://www.fda.gov/food/chemicals/and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas" target="_blank">and food</a>, including eggs, meat, milk, fish, fruits and vegetables.</p><p>In the bodies of humans and animals, PFAS <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2013.06.004" target="_blank">concentrate in various organs, tissues and cells</a>. The <a href="https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/whatwestudy/assessments/noncancer/completed/pfoa/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">U.S. National Toxicology Program</a> and <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=1117&tid=237" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> have confirmed a long list of health risks, including immunotoxicity, testicular and kidney cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility and thyroid disease.</p><p>Children are even more vulnerable than adults because they can ingest more PFAS relative to their body weight from food and water and through the air. Children also put their hands in their mouths more often, and their metabolic and immune systems are less developed. Studies show that these chemicals <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14070691" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">harm children</a> by causing kidney dysfunction, delayed puberty, asthma and <a href="https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/whatwestudy/assessments/noncancer/completed/pfoa/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">altered immune function</a>.</p><p>Researchers have also documented that PFAS exposure <a href="https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2011.2034" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduces the effectiveness of vaccines</a>, which is particularly concerning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p>
<div id="2f489" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dc8947d6f28cecd61b99688c8e1f751a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291831257790402560" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">PFAS, a class of chemicals that have been associated with health hazards including liver damage, birth defects, can… https://t.co/NtnVkmMQs0</div> — WIRED (@WIRED)<a href="https://twitter.com/WIRED/statuses/1291831257790402560">1596831547.0</a></blockquote></div>
Regulation Is Lagging<p>PFAS have become so ubiquitous in the environment that health experts say it is <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/exposure.html" target="_blank">probably impossible to completely prevent exposure</a>. These substances are released throughout their life cycles, from chemical production to product use and disposal. Up to 80% of environmental pollution from common PFAS, such as PFOA, comes from <a href="https://doi.org/10.1021/es0512475" target="_blank">production of fluoropolymers</a> that use toxic PFAS as processing aids to make products like Teflon.</p><p>In 2009 the EPA established a health advisory level for PFOA in drinking water of 400 parts per trillion. Health advisories are not binding regulations – they are <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/drinking-water-contaminant-human-health-effects-information#dw-standards" target="_blank">technical guidelines</a> for state, local and tribal governments, which are primarily responsible for regulating public water systems.</p><p>In 2016 the agency <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">dramatically lowered</a> this recommendation to 70 parts per trillion. Some states have set <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/etc.4863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">far more protective levels</a> – as low as 8 parts per trillion.</p><p>According to a recent estimate by the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/about-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Working Group</a>, a public health advocacy organization, up to 110 million Americans could be <a href="https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/pfas_contamination/map/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking PFAS-contaminated water</a>. Even with the most advanced treatment processes, it is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2013.10.045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">extremely difficult and costly</a> to remove these chemicals from drinking water. And it's impossible to clean up lakes, river systems or oceans. Nonetheless, PFAS are <a href="https://oversight.house.gov/legislation/hearings/toxic-forever-chemicals-a-call-for-immediate-federal-action-on-pfas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">largely unregulated by the federal government</a>, although they are <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/news/pfas-action-act-congress-bill-house-pass-trump-epa-20200110.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gaining increased attention from Congress</a>.</p>
Reducing PFAS Risks at the Source<p>Given that PFAS pollution is so ubiquitous and hard to remove, many health experts assert that the only way to address it is by <a href="https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2016/12/21/reducing-human-exposure-to-highly-fluorinated-chemicals" target="_blank">reducing PFAS production and use as much as possible</a>.</p><p><a href="https://pfascentral.org/" target="_blank">Educational campaigns</a> and <a href="https://toxicfreefuture.org/toxic-free-future-action-center/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">consumer pressure</a> are making a difference. Many forward-thinking companies, including grocers, clothing manufacturers and furniture stores, have <a href="https://pfascentral.org/pfas-basics/pfas-free-products/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed PFAS</a> from products they use and sell.</p><p>State governments have also stepped in. California recently <a href="https://news.bloomberglaw.com/environment-and-energy/ban-on-firefighting-foam-with-pfas-signed-by-california-governor" target="_blank">banned PFAS in firefighting foams</a>. Maine and Washington have <a href="https://www.natlawreview.com/article/attack-pfass-extends-to-food-packaging" target="_blank">banned PFAS in food packaging</a>. Other states are <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/per-and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas-state-laws.aspx" target="_blank">considering similar measures</a>.<br></p><p>I am part of a group of scientists from universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies in the U.S. and Europe that has argued for managing the entire class of PFAS chemicals as a group, instead of one by one. We also support an "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1039/C9EM00163H" target="_blank">essential uses" approach</a> that would restrict their production and use only to products that are critical for health and proper functioning of society, such as medical devices and safety equipment. And we have recommended developing safer non-PFAS alternatives.</p><p>As the EPA acknowledges, there is an <a href="https://www.epa.gov/innovation/innovative-ways-destroy-pfas-challenge" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">urgent need for innovative solutions</a> to PFAS pollution. Guided by good science, I believe we can effectively manage PFAS to reduce further harm, while researchers find ways to clean up what has already been released.</p>
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