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The long reach of perfluorochemicals
Larger view
U of M researcher Matt Simcik is looking at why perfluorochemicals have spread throughout the environment. (MPR Photo/Mike Edgerly)

St. Paul, Minn. — The mysteries are many when it comes to perfluorochemicals.

Not the least of which is this -- how is it that chemicals no longer made in the U.S. are turning up in the bloodstreams of creatures found nowhere near chemical plants?

Matt Simcik, an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Minnesota, is researching how they travel through the atmosphere. In 2001, a Michigan State University study conducted by John Giesy found PFOS in the blood of 400 different mammals, fish and birds on all seven continents.

At the time, Simcik said if animals in remote northern Minnesota lakes tested positive for the chemicals, it would be the "nail in the coffin" that the chemicals are moving through the air.

Simcik collected and tested a group of northern pike in Voyageurs National Park -- the same fish samples tested by Fardin Oliaei of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency -- and found they showed traces of fluorochemicals. The lakes were wholly cut off from other water sources, and were miles from the closest road.

Simcik had found his "nail in the coffin" on atmospheric transport.

Atmospheric transport isn't the sole source for fluorochemicals in the environment, however. According to Simcik, the chemicals also "leach out of fabric during washing and directly enter the wastewater."

Simcik and other scientists believe PFOA and PFOS were also released into the environment from manufacturing plants where the chemicals were made or used.