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Tim Shortt/Florida Today

FL - 'Forever chemicals' lurk everywhere Florida looks for them in the Indian River Lagoon

Everywhere scientists look in the Indian River Lagoon, they find so-called “forever chemicals,” in some places at almost four times the levels of what’s safe in drinking water, according to a recently published scientific study by the University of Florida.

Everywhere scientists look in the Indian River Lagoon, they find so-called “forever chemicals,” in some places at almost four times the levels of what’s safe in drinking water, according to a recently published scientific study by the University of Florida.

UF researchers have been measuring the presence of these potentially cancer-causing compounds in the lagoon for years, but with greater focus over the last two years.

John Bowden, assistant professor of chemistry at UF’s department of physiological sciences, said the latest study — published in the journal Chemosphere — showed  that the Banana River had the highest levels of PFAS. Next was the southern Indian River, followed by the northern Indian River and then the Atlantic coast. (PFAS also has been found in sea spray, Bowden said.)

The researchers plan to present their latest results in Satellite Beach, streamed live online Saturday.

The compounds, called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) get into the lagoon from contaminated soil, sewage, reclaimed water, biosolids, and countless consumer products. Experts say there’s no cheap or easy way of getting them out of the environment, or of even measuring them.

“The challenge with some of the really volatile ones is that there’s not a lot of real good methods out there,” Bowden said.  

PFAS are known to contaminate the drinking water of an estimated 200-plus million people, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, which published an analysis in late 2020 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, using drinking water testing results from federal and state environmental agencies. While no one’s drinking lagoon water, PFAS compounds keep popping up in fish, alligators, manatees, seagrass and more along the waterway from Kennedy Space Center to Patrick Space Force Base.

The extensive historical use of firefighting foams at the base and KSC, as well as the discharge of wastewater, coupled with the stagnant nature of the waterway contributed to the higher levels in Banana River, the researchers said in their recent paper.

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