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DATE: June 8, 2021
SNIP: Rain that fell on Ohio this spring contained a surprisingly high amount of toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, according to raw data from a binational Great Lakes monitoring program that tracks airborne pollution.

Rainwater collected in Cleveland over two weeks in April contained a combined concentration of about 1,000 parts-per-trillion (ppt) of PFAS compounds. That’s according to scientists at the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network (IADN), a long-term Great Lakes monitoring program jointly funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Canada.

The samples are part of a new IADN effort to analyze the prevalence of PFAS in precipitation across the Great Lakes. The network has other monitoring stations in Illinois, Michigan and New York and the chemicals were detected there, too.

The preliminary data is unpublished and undergoing quality reviews, but researchers say early analysis shows PFAS chemicals to be major contaminant in regional rain and snow.

“You can actually say it’s raining PFAS at this point,” said Marta Venier, an environmental chemist Indiana University, speaking to reporters convened online by the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources (IJNR) in May.

The sites are located in Cleveland, Chicago, Sturgeon Point, N.Y., Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and Eagle Harbor in the Upper Peninsula.

The team measured 38 different PFAS compounds in ambient air and rainwater. The total concentration in most samples ranged from 100 to about 400-ppt across the sites, with higher counts at urban compared to rural or remote sites.

After nearly a year’s worth of sampling, Venier said preliminary analysis also shows PFAS concentrations are orders of magnitude higher than other pollutants in the samples.

Tony Spaniola, a national PFAS activist and attorney who owns a home near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Mich., was surprised to see significant concentrations at remote locations like Sleeping Bear Dunes and Eagle Harbor.

It’s everywhere,” Spaniola said. “I’m not happy to say that. It’s not good news. But it underscores how ubiquitous these chemicals are. They are everywhere.”