PFAS Water Contamination Scandals Unfold Across Europe
PFAS drinking water pollution scandals emerging across Europe indicate that we are facing a widespread PFAS pollution crisis. We need urgent action by governments to tackle this now.
The reality of a widespread PFAS contamination crisis is becoming ever more apparent. Recent human biomonitoring studies testing blood samples from people across Europe have found that large parts of the European population are contaminated with PFAS chemicals. The issue of PFAS water contamination has increasingly been hitting news story headlines across Europe, and the issue has made it into courtrooms.
PFAS are a family of over 10,000 chemicals, often called the ‘forever chemicals’ because they will last a long time in the environment. Due to their grease and water-resistant properties, they are used in various industrial processes and everyday products – from cookware to clothing and cosmetics.
Their extreme persistence means they can build up in the bodies of people and wildlife, and the most studied chemicals in the group have been linked to cancer, infertility, and immune system problems.
Veneto, Italy: Mothers Contaminated by PFAS Demand Action
In Veneto, Italy, a study found concerning levels of PFAS in the drinking water and soil of some municipalities in the area due to pollution by chemical company Miteni. The contamination is estimated to stretch over 200 square kilometres and affect up to 350,000 people living in the Veneto region.
Between 2015 and 2016, a biomonitoring project tested blood from residents inside and outside the contaminated areas. In affected areas, residents had significantly higher levels of PFAS in their blood.
Mamme no PFAS (meaning no PFAS Mums) are a group of parents from the Veneto region who have staged various demonstrations to demand action on PFAS pollution. During a recent rally in Brussels, they called for the EU Commission to address PFAS pollution.
A mother from the movement said, “We are mothers from Veneto [Italy] contaminated by PFAS; we have passed on these forever chemicals to our children. Our health and theirs are already irreparably affected by this”.
Brussels: Mapping Highlights PFAS Contamination in European Capital
In November, a mapping project by the Belgian media RTBF highlighted that drinking water in some areas of Brussels contained elevated levels of PFAS. Over half of the city’s drinking water was contaminated by the chemicals. In the Eastern part of the city, drinking water contained PFAS at concentrations over 20 times the levels in the centre and north-western parts.
In 2020, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommended that the EU set a safety threshold for the intake of four specific PFAS chemicals at 4.4 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per week. Based on this threshold, a 20-kilogram child would surpass this threshold if they were to drink one litre of tap water per day in the European quarter.
Swedish Court Case: Affected Individuals Granted Right to Seek Compensation for Contamination
More than 150 residents from the towns of Kallinge and Ronneby, Sweden, filed a lawsuit against their local water company to seek compensation for personal injury due to PFAS pollution. Drinking water in the region had been contaminated by PFAS in firefighting foams used for firefighting training at a local air base. The levels of several PFAS, including PFOS, in the residents’ blood, are among some of the highest levels globally. This is despite PFOS being subject to a global restriction since 2009.
The court ruled in favour of the residents, marking the first time in Europe that a court has ruled that people who have been polluted by PFAS are entitled to claim compensation.
United Kingdom: Widespread Contamination of Water Sources Raises Alarms
In the UK, banned forever chemicals PFOA and PFOS, which have both been linked to certain cancers as well as immune and hormone system effects, have been found in untreated water samples. Nearly 400 treated water samples contained other potentially toxic PFAS at levels that the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) categorises as ‘medium risk’.
Scientists have called for a tenfold decrease in the UK’s PFAS drinking water limit, a guidance level that is not legally binding, and is currently set at 100 nanograms per litre.
Urgent Action Needed
The PFAS pollution scandals emerging across Europe and the numerous studies linking PFAS exposure to concerning impacts show that Europe is facing a PFAS pollution crisis. Urgent action is needed to safeguard the health of people and nature. PFAS pollution will impact generations to come, so Governments must act now to turn off the tap on PFAS pollution to avoid adding to the problem.
CHEM Trust is calling for a ban on all PFAS chemicals, with minimal derogations and transition times for a complete phase-out. Read more about what we have been doing to address PFAS pollution in the UK and the EU.