Widespread pollution of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ revealed across Europe and UK
Two new studies have revealed alarmingly high levels of PFAS contamination across thousands of sites around Europe, including in the UK.
A major mapping project, using data from samples taken between 2003 and 2023 by scientists and environmental agencies has revealed the level of PFAS pollution at thousands of sites across Europe, including the UK. PFAS, a family of over 10,000 chemicals, are used for their water and, grease repellant properties. The mapping project detected these chemicals – which are used in many consumer goods – in water, soil and living organisms.
The project showed PFAS at around 17,000 sites across Europe, and hundreds of sites were revealed to be contaminated with PFAS at concerningly high levels. These chemicals have been linked to several health complications in humans and wildlife, including impacts on the immune system and the promotion of certain cancers.
The highest levels of PFAS identified were in Belgian ground water around the site of chemical manufacturing company 3M’s PFAS production site. Residents within 15km (10 miles) of the site have been told not to eat eggs or vegetables produced in their own gardens – a very worrying illustration of the concern surrounding these chemicals.
The greatest level of PFAS pollution identified in this project in the UK was found in discharge from a chemical factory in the River Wyre. High amounts of PFAS were discovered in fish living in the river.
In a second study, new analysis of official Environment Agency data on PFAS in UK waters was released this week thanks to a mapping project undertaken by The Rivers Trust and Wildlife and Countryside Link.
The study found that over three quarters of the 105 rivers tested in the UK exceed a safety standard that is expected to become law in the EU, with 44% exceeding the limit by five times.
Dr Julie Schneider, PFAS campaigner at CHEM Trust said, “The more we learn about the harmful properties of PFAS, the more concerned we become. This is why authorities around the world are consistently bringing in more protective safety standards based on the most up to date science.”
The river identified with the highest levels of PFAS was the River Roding in East London, where the concentrations were more than 20 times higher than the EU proposed safety limits. The River Ouse in Bedfordshire, the River Avon in Somerset and the River Mersey in Cheshire were all at least 10 times over the proposed EU threshold.
“PFAS pollution has been left to spiral out of control and it is not acceptable that the most persistent synthetic chemicals ever created are still allowed to be used so widely in our society.” said Dr Schneider.
A recent surge of articles from The Guardian newspaper has put a spotlight on the magnitude of PFAS pollution, including highlighting the health impacts associated with these ‘forever chemicals’ and calling out government inaction.
Dr Schneider added, “The Government must urgently turn off the PFAS tap to protect nature and our communities. And a good place to start would be to ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics, consumer textiles and food packaging. A sandwich bag does not need to be coated with PFAS”
Research continues to reinforce what CHEM Trust has been highlighting for years – that the current level of PFAS pollution is uncontrollable, unsustainable, and unacceptable. CHEM Trust and other NGOs across the UK and the EU are calling for a ban on all PFAS in consumer products by 2025. We were pleased to see the proposal for a PFAS group restriction in the EU, submitted by authorities in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.