At this point in time and society through heavy research, studies, and tests, we all know that being exposed to hazardous chemicals, whether airborne, ingestible, or physically seeped, can cause extreme health complications. But can this only affect humans? Unfortunately not – a new study has shown that harmful chemicals released atmospherically worldwide, have strong effects on the animals below. 

A comprehensive map curated by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides valuable data on the significant amount of affected wildlife. Hundreds of previous studies have found and identified these ‘forever chemicals’ in certain wildlife populations. These chemicals are to be per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. Most commonly used in jet fuel, firefighter foam, and household products such as nonstick pans and waterproof apparel. Through various food and soil tests, the FDA has concluded that these chemicals do not break down easily and have strong contamination abilities, absorbed by plants and animals. Now knowing this information, the EWG created the map to be a more efficient, interactive, easily accessible way to consolidate data, and further important research. 

Senior EWG Scientist, David Andrews was a contributing member to developing the list of animals exposed, and had initial shock by the jarring quantity. “Incredible amount of research that’s been done globally, documenting PFAS contamination in wildlife. Everything from studies of crocodiles in South Africa, ticks in New York State and along the East Coast and scorpions in the Midwest,” stated Andrews. 

The study found about 120 different types of PFAS compounds, and this may increase due to the already known thousands of previously verified compounds within these chemicals. The most common animal to reappear on the map is fish, due to the high absorption rate and velocity of bodies of water, but birds were found to be at the top of the list too. These chemicals affect both land and aquatic wildlife, and if it’s affecting the animal specifically, what is it doing to their habitat? If these chemicals are capable of seeping into soils and plants, their main resources for survival have been contaminated as well – continuing the cycle of toxicity. 

The map highlights the international extent the chemicals can travel – geolocating studies of more than 330 species – birds, whales, polar bears, dolphins, seals, fish, tigers, monkeys, horses, cats, otters, and many others, from the Arctic to the Nile River. The researchers of the list stated that the studied and listed animals are not the totality of the affected, and the data is ever changing. Up until now, prominent defects and health issues have only been seen in humans, but that’s not to say animals will suffer too. This phenomenon can cause habitat loss, population loss, high decrease in water quality, contamination and loss of natural resources, and ecosystem destruction.      

This current study is built upon a previous study published in January, where the EWG tested the extent of the chemicals found in the coast to coast U.S. freshwater fish.  

“No one country can fix this problem,” stated Andrews. “But at the same time, countries like the United States can take a leading effort in researching, identifying alternatives and moving the market away from the chemicals.”