Drew Barrymore did not tell us about this.
When Drew Barrymore implored us to get out and run in the rain whenever we get a chance, she left out one important disclaimer: Keep your mouth shut. According to a new study, rain in almost every part of the world is now so full of toxic chemicals that it’s unsafe to drink.
Per the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, dangerous pollutants in rainwater called PFAS, also referred to as “forever chemicals,” exceed global guidelines and have become so widespread that we might have crossed some sort of planetary boundary we can’t turn back from. In fact, the situation is so bad that one of the study’s researchers noted that PFAS exceeded EPA limits in places as remote as Antarctica and the Tibetan plateau, per Vice.
PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are man-made chemicals that take a very long time to break down, according to the EPA. Many household items contain PFAS, including waterproof clothes, candy wrappers, and cleaning products, per the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Given that it’s practically everywhere, most of us already have some PFAS in our blood — but the CDC says too much of it could potentially hurt our immune systems, increase cholesterol levels, and heighten the risk of getting kidney cancer.
Although, as Vice reported, the world (with the exception of China) has generally cut down on its use of PFAS over the past few decades, the toxic chemicals don’t tend to break down on their own in the natural environment — which means even PFAS discarded decades ago are probably still circulating. Scientists are working to come up with ways to collect and discard “forever chemicals,” including researchers at University of California, Berkeley who are looking to contain the foam that firefighters use to put out fires (a big source of PFAS), and researchers in Michigan who are attempting to create nanoreactors that destroy the compounds that make PFAS so difficult to degrade, per the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The thought of PFAS literally falling from the sky isn’t great, so unless you’d also willingly swallow a mouthful of plastic bottle caps, maybe just don’t drink rainwater or snowfall straight from the source.