Research finds outdoor gear chemicals in snow near Everest summit

So-called “forever chemicals” used in water-repellant outdoor gear have been found in snow from the top of Mount Everest, according to a University of Maine researcher. Known as PFAs, the chemicals have been linked to health risks.

Kimberley Miner from the University of Maine says these human-made per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — which have been linked to birth defects, high cholesterol and increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer — could eventually pose a risk for trekkers, climbers and residents who drink the water, according to a statement.

Other recent studies suggest that exposure to high levels of PFAS may suppress peoples’ immune systems and increase their risk of getting COVID-19, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The PFAS pollution identified on Everest shows that humans are shedding these chemicals wherever they go. Companies that make outdoor gear have indicated they have, or soon will be, phasing out use of these chemicals, says the statement.

The chemicals were found on Everest in snow and meltwater collected from the Khumbu Glacier at Base Camp, Camp I, Camp II, and the Everest Balcony during the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition.

This marks the first time that Everest snow and meltwater has been analyzed for PFAS, Miner says.

“I think this shows that any community that has a mountain or outdoors presence may have residual side effects of PFAS pollution, and that includes Maine,” she says in the statement.

Photo credit: Papa Lima Whiskey 2 (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

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