Research finds PFAS contamination in more than 330 animal species

By Alisa Reznick
Published: Thursday, April 6, 2023 - 10:20am

A research group has found that PFAS are present in more than 330 wildlife species around the world. 

PFAS are a group of substances known as forever chemicals, because they don’t break down naturally. They're used in a huge range of products — from nonstick pans to firefighting foam used for years at air bases and airports. The Environmental Protection Agency says the chemicals have been found in soil, air and water around the world.

Tasha Stoiber — a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group — says PFAS have already been found in humans across the globe.

"What we’re seeing in the few studies that have been done and the few studies that we have reviewed, is that the health effects that we’ve noted in humans are some of the same health effects that are now being seen in animals as well," she said. 

Stoiber says that includes immune system and adrenal system problems, and other health issues. Her group compiled and analyzed more than 125 peer-reviewed studies to map out PFAS contamination. They found the chemicals were present in animals, including fish, mammals and reptiles, on every continent, except Antarctica. Stoiber said the studies noted health issues like slow would healing in PFAS-contaminated alligators, and higher levels of infectious disease in infectious disease in otters. 

"What's significant is just the range of all of the different species that have been tested ... everything from polar bears to manatees, and then, you know, things that we might not think about as well, like ticks, for example," Stoiber said. "It's startling to see ... the health effects that we've documented so well in humans, it tracks with this, concept of one health — where the health of humans and the health of animals and the health of the ecosystem, they're all related."

A polar bear with her young
Susanne Miller/USFWS
A polar bear with her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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