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Water pollution is a rising global crisis. Here’s what you need to know.

The world’s freshwater sources receive contaminants from a wide range of sectors, threatening human and wildlife health.

BY CHRISTINA NUNEZ

From big pieces of garbage to invisible chemicals, a wide range of pollutants ends up in our planet’s lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, and eventually the oceans. Water pollution—along with drought, inefficiency, and an exploding population—has contributed to a freshwater crisis, threatening the sources we rely on for drinking water and other critical needs.

Research has revealed that one pollutant in particular is more common in our tap water than anyone had previously thought: PFAS, short for poly and perfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS is used to make everyday items resistant to moisture, heat, and stains; some of these chemicals have such long half-lives that they are known as “the forever chemical.”

Safeguarding water supplies is important because even though nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. And just one percent of freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in remote glaciers and snowfields.

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