<figcaption> Credit: © MATTHEW ANTONINO</figcaption>

Manufacturers use fluorinated organic chemicals in a variety of coatings on fabrics and paper plates and in fire-fighting foams. Now, these extremely stable compounds are showing up all over the globe. In 2004, Scott Mabury's group from the University of Toronto published a paper demonstrating perfluorinated contaminants in Canadian wildlife, from fish to fowl to fur, with highest concentrations at the top of the food chain, in animals such as polar bears.1 Finding contamination in such a remote environment was a surprise.

"This paper focused on the Arctic, which is a particularly sensitive environment," says Ian Cousins, an environmental scientist at Stockholm University. Scientists are questioning how the contaminants got there, far away from any industrial source. The study also revealed novel forms of contamination. Mabury says they stumbled upon this in earlier work designed to study carbon chain length. Compounds with an eight-carbon backbone,...

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