Perpetual chemicals (PFAS) – investigated across Europe, look at results


Global awareness of the effects of environmental pollution and climate change has increased in recent years. As a result, more and more organizations and institutions are trying to get involved in various projects to reduce the impact of human activities on the environment. Prominent among them is the Forever Pollution Project, which was launched by the French daily Le Monde, in cooperation with 17 partners. The point of view of representatives from a number of countries (e.g. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece or Latvia) makes it possible to take a closer look at the problem of pollution and more effectively counteract the deterioration of the situation.

For the first time, the extent of Europe’s contamination with PFAS substances was thoroughly investigated, and the results were shared with the public.

What are PFASs?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “perpetual chemicals,” are synthetic chemical compounds that do not break down naturally in the environment.

PFASs are used in many industrial and consumer products, and contamination of water, soil and air with them is widespread worldwide. Due to their persistence, PFAS are particularly harmful to humans. For example, they are found in chemical industry products, non-stick coatings, plastics, paints, building products, sports equipment or clothing. They can also get into food, and their presence significantly affects human health. PFAS can cause cancer and infertility, as well as many other serious diseases. It has been estimated that PFAS burdens health systems to the tune of 52 to 84 billion euros a year.

Forever Pollution Project

The Forever Pollution Project is the result of a joint effort by a number of entities to study the extent of Europe’s contamination with PFAS compounds. They collected thousands of data over several months to measure the scale of the phenomenon in Europe. The results are shown on a “perpetual pollution map,” which vividly demonstrates the scale of the problem.

Based on studies of thousands of environmental samples, it has been estimated that there are more than 17,000 sites on the Old Continent that are contaminated to a degree that requires the attention of public authorities (PFAS has been detected in high concentrations exceeding 10 nanograms per liter of water). In another 2,100 hot spots, PFAS concentrations reach levels considered hazardous to health (more than 100 nanograms per liter). The investigation also revealed the locations of nearly 21,500 sites suspected of being contaminated by past or current industrial activities, as well as more than 230 factories identified as PFAS users.

Perennial chemical pollution is a big problem in all European countries, but there are places where it is downright unsolvable. The highest levels of pollution were recorded in Belgium. It is here, in the city of Zwijndrecht, that concentrations are up to 73 million nanograms per liter, 36.5 million times the accepted level. Residents living in the surrounding area have been advised to avoid native vegetables and eggs laid in their gardens.

PFAS – what can we do with them?

Perpetual chemicals are very difficult to remove. “The cost of reclamation is likely to be in the tens of billions of euros. In several places, the authorities have already given up and decided to keep the toxic chemicals in the ground, as they cannot be removed,” warn experts of the Forever Pollution project.

To combat PFAS compound pollution, it is necessary to involve all EU member states. It is important to invest in research, monitoring and management of pollution, measures to prevent further contamination of the environment and protect people from its long-term effects. Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark – countries with strict domestic regulations on PFAS – have jointly submitted a proposal to restrict the use of toxic substances across the EU.

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