Ridding Waters and Wildlife Habitat of Toxic Chemicals

Waterways and the aquatic habitats of many wildlife from kingfishers to polar bears are contaminated with highly toxic “forever chemicals.” These chemicals — known as Per-and-Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS — persist in the environment, exposing communities and beloved species to serious health risks, including cancers, and they impact vital organs and systems, such as the reproductive and immune systems.

A Win Against Toxic Forever Chemicals

Last month we celebrated a momentous victory in the long fight to protect people and wildlife from these toxic chemicals when the Environmental Protection Agency designated two ‘forever chemicals,’ PFOA and PFOS, as hazardous substances, underscoring the agency’s commitment to address the threat they pose to public health and the environment. 

The designation grants the agency broader authority to respond to contamination incidents and hold responsible parties accountable for cleanup efforts, while also addressing environmental justice concerns. Thousands of our wildlife advocates spoke out on this issue for many years, and finally their voices were heard and action was taken!

“This designation will ensure that more PFAS-contaminated sites get cleaned up and that those responsible for the pollution can be held accountable for the cost. It is imperative that we clean up existing PFAS contamination and stop PFAS at its source before it threatens public health and wildlife by entering our drinking water and environment in the first place.”

Jim Murphy, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy
A belted kingfisher (black  bird with a white band around its neck and a white tummy) perches on a broken tree limb.
Belted kingfisher. Credit: Aaron Hamilton

Decades of PFAS Contamination

Contamination of our waters by these toxic, long-lasting, “forever chemicals” is widespread. They have been found in hundreds of species of fish and wildlife around the world. Studies have shown the chemicals reduce the reproductive and hatching success in birds and can be passed from mothers to their eggs. 

PFAS chemicals have been used since the 1940s and are found in products such as the nonstick in our pots and pans, stain repellent in our furniture, waterproof compounds in our clothes, plastic wrap in fast food, and so much more. The toxic chemicals are also discharged into our surface water, air, and soil from tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities, airports, and wastewater treatment plants. They are also prevalent in firefighting foam and have been found in biosolids that are applied to agricultural fields.