The Arctic Is Now Leaking Out High Concentrations of 'Forever Chemicals'

Because they are not naturally broken down in the environment, perfluoroalkyl (PFAS) and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS), are called 'forever chemicals. A new study has revealed that Arctic ice melt is increasing in speed and releasing more of these chemicals into our environment.Although PFAS are not native to the Arctic, they can be found in many human-made products and processes. These include pizza boxes, foam to fight fires, and even foam for making pizza boxes. They can be trapped in Arctic ice floes once they are released into the atmosphere.This is not a new finding. However, a disturbing new study by chemists at Lancaster University in the UK has shown that the saltiness of the water and the concentration of PFAS in bulk sea ice is closely linked to their concentrations. These forever chemicals are more concentrated the saltier the sea.Problem is, as the planet heats up, cycles melting and freezing create pockets of ocean water that are highly saline, encapsulating PFAS in tiny pools. These highly concentrated chemicals eventually get released into the general circulation.Crispin Halsall from Lancaster University, UK, says that the changing nature of sea-ice could alter the processing and release key nutrients and pollutants.PFAS have been shown to be toxic to both humans and animals. This is why they are so worried about being released into the food chain. Studies in the past have shown that PFAS can cause liver damage and problems with fetal growth.Research had previously shown that PFAS concentrations near melting Arctic ice floes in seawater were at least twice as high than similar readings from the North Sea.According to another study published recently, many of these chemicals are transported by snowfall on top ice.The team created an artificial sea-ice chamber in order to conduct controlled experiments to determine how chemicals could be released.Initialy, water contains a high percentage of the salts that have been dissolved as it melts.The team discovered that this large portion contained a lot of PFAS. They were mainly shorter chain types. The PFAS chains became longer as the meltwater was more fresh.Researchers believe that long periods of Arctic thawing are releasing the brine, causing it to mix more frequently with snow meltwater. This could be the source of the increased contamination levels.One-year ice is now dominating the Arctic Ocean, replacing older ice over many years. This is a problem. The young ice is rich in mobile brine, which can interact with snow to further concentrate PFAS pollutants.This is a problem immediately for organisms that are in direct contact with the Arctic food chain ice organisms, which frequently eat the brine channels of the frozen ice floes. They will now be exposed more chemicals.This study is part EISPAC (Effects Of Ice Stressors And Pollutants On The Arctic Marine Cryosphere), which is being managed by organisations from the UK, Germany and the UK. The team calls for future restrictions on PFAS.The researchers conclude that more controlled experiments and careful observation in the field are required to better understand these complicated, but potentially important, processes, especially with regard to chemical exposures to organisms at base of marine food web.The research was published in Environmental Science & Technology.