Chemicals Raining Down In Ohio: What Does That Mean For Your Health?

New research shows chemicals called PFAS (often called forever chemicals) are raining down in Northeast Ohio and into Lake Erie [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]
New research shows chemicals called PFAS (often called forever chemicals) are raining down in Northeast Ohio and into Lake Erie [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]

April showers bring May flowers... and chemicals?

New research shows that rain collected in Cleveland in April contained high amounts of chemicals, known as PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The data from the Great Lakes Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network is still preliminary. 

"(PFAS is) a group of chemicals that fall into this chemical structure that has these fluorine compounds on them that make them very hard bonds to break so they don’t break down in the environment,” said Scott Broski, Superintendent of Environmental Services for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

“They’re very hard to destroy, so they’ve kind of picked up the name forever chemicals because to get rid of them is very difficult,” he said.

The research is still ongoing, and there’s still more work to do to get a clearer picture of what’s going on, said researcher Marta Venier of Indiana University.

Venier spoke to reporters online in May, according to mlive.com, and she said that the preliminary data shows that rainwater collected over two weeks in April contained a combined concentration of about 1,000 parts-per-trillion (ppt) of PFAS compounds.

The chemicals come from a number of sources, including firefighting foam, waterproof clothing, and stain protection in carpets, which could get into the water supply if someone cleans the carpet and empties the water into a sink or drain, said Broski.

“Our concern is: can we even control it?” he said. “Rainwater is pretty difficult to control.”

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District plants aren’t designed to take these chemicals out of the water before it is dumped back into Lake Erie, Broski said.

The Cleveland water department pulls the raw water in from Lake Erie and treats it again before it's distributed.

Because they are hard to break down oftentimes these chemicals may get through the treatment process.

So what does that mean for your health?

“The biggest concern is probably for liver inflammation and liver injury, and we haven’t seen as much of that with these specific compounds, but it is something to be concerned about,” said Dr. Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist with University Hospitals.

He said that specific concern is because fluorocarbons tend to accumulate in the liver and lead to inflammation over time. Marino thinks more research should be done to see if these specific chemicals would cause liver issues.

He said even if it doesn’t directly impact our health, it could be dangerous that they are getting in the water.

“Even if these don’t have toxic effects on humans, if they’re affecting the animals, that’s a concern that this is out in the environment,” Marino said.

And because these are “forever chemicals,” which have trouble breaking down, it’s likely we will continue to see build up over time.

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