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New Study Reveals Scale of ‘Forever Chemical’ Contamination across UK and Europe

In the UK and Europe, the chemicals have been discovered at about 17,000 different sites

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

UNITED KINGDOM: A major mapping project has revealed that “forever chemicals,” which don’t degrade in the environment, accumulate in the body, and may be toxic, have been detected in high concentrations at thousands of locations across the UK and Europe.

The map demonstrates how a variety of consumer products, firefighting foams, waste, and industrial processes have contributed to the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a family of about 10,000 chemicals prized for their non-stick and detergent properties.

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Numerous health issues have been connected to two PFAS. PFOA has been linked to thyroid illness, ulcerative colitis, kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. 

PFOS has been linked to disorders of the thyroid, liver, kidney, and thyroid growth, as well as reproduction. The immunotoxicity of PFAS has been linked to decreased concentrations.

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In the UK and Europe, the chemicals have been discovered at about 17,000 different locations. Of these, PFAS have been found in water samples at significant concentrations of over 1,000 ng/l at 640 sites and over 10,000 ng/l at 300 sites.

Prof. Crispin Halsall, an environmental chemist at Lancaster University, said, “These sorts of concentrations raise concerns with me.” “You have the risk of livestock gaining access to those waters, and then PFAS is in the human food web.”

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There are dangers associated with humans “accessing wildlife as food sources like fishing and wildfowl,” Halsall added.

Locations where PFAS has been found at 10 ng/l or over

The map demonstrates that the groundwater around 3M’s PFAS manufacturing facility in Zwijndrecht, Flanders, had PFAS concentrations up to 73 mg/l, making Belgium the country with the greatest levels of pollution.

Residents within 15 kilometres (10 miles) of the site have been advised to stay away from homegrown vegetables and not to consume any eggs laid in their gardens. 

In the meantime, 70,000 residents of a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius around the facility have been given the option of a blood test to check for the presence of PFAS. 

According to 3M, it has “signed a deal with the Flemish region… with an investment amount of €571 million (£503 million) and will clean up the property.” Additionally, it has stated that by the end of 2025, it will “work to discontinue the use of PFAS across its product portfolio.”

Due to a spill involving firefighting foam containing PFAS in the Netherlands, soils near Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam now contain exceptionally high amounts of PFOS. Similar issues have been discovered at some German airports and military installations.

In the UK, the highest PFAS concentrations were discovered in a chemical factory discharge on the River Wyre, above Blackpool. 

Data from the Defra Center for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science show that fish in the waterway have high PFAS concentrations, with flounder having up to 11,000 ng/kg.

Sites with readings above 1,000 ng/kg should, according to Prof. Ian Cousins, an environmental scientist at Stockholm University, be “urgently assessed” so that they can be remedied.

The map indicates that PFAS contamination has spread to drinking water sources in the UK, but water firms claim that the chemicals are not present in the finished tap water because they are either removed or blended with water from another source to dilute the PFAS.

Since 2006, about 120 samples of drinking water sources have been found to have concentrations of PFOS or PFOA above the 100 ng/l level, which is the level at which the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) guidelines state that water companies should take action to reduce it before supplying it to people’s homes.

This information was obtained from water companies and the Environment Agency by the Guardian and Watershed. The DWI guideline limit, which was set at 3,000 ng/l until 2009, was much greater.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has established a health warning limit of 0.004 ng/l for PFOA and 0.02 ng/l for PFOS, which are much lower than the recommended limits for PFAS in drinking water. Drinking water in Denmark cannot have more than 2 ng/l of the total amount of PFAS, per the Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite the map’s high number of detections, it’s believed to be just the beginning. The Environment Agency has acknowledged that PFOS, which is known to be toxic to fish and other aquatic life, is pervasive in the environment and that many rivers won’t reach water quality standards until 2039 as a result.

Also Read: United Kingdom Prime Minister Liz Truss Apologizes for Any Errors

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