Forever Chemicals Contaminate More than 17,000 Sites in Europe and UK, New Map Reveals
There are more than 17,000 sites across Europe that have been contaminated with toxic forever chemicals and another more than 21,000 sites that have likely been polluted.
That’s one main finding from “The Forever Pollution Project,” a month’s-long collaboration between 18 European newsrooms to investigate and map the extent of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) pollution across the continent and in the UK.
“After our data collection on an unprecedented scale, this map is the first to illustrate the widespread contamination of Europe by these toxic and persistent substances,” reporters at Le Monde wrote on Thursday.
The French newspaper developed the investigation along with Germany’s NDR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung; Italy’s RADAR Magazine and Le Scienze; and the Netherlands’ The Investigative Desk and NRC, according to the project website. It involved scouring over more than 1,200 confidential documents from the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The final result was a “Forever Pollution Map” that revealed the following data points, according to Le Monde:
- 20 PFAS production facilities, where the chemicals are actually synthesized.
- More than 17,000 sites that have tested positive for PFAS contamination.
- 232 sites that use PFAS to make other products, from plastics to pesticides to waterproof clothing.
- More than 21,000 sites that have not been tested, but where contamination is likely based on the industrial or military activities that occurred there.
- More than 2,100 “hotspots” with contamination levels of at least 100 nanograms per liter (ng/L), which experts consider a health risk.
At around 640 “hotspot” sites, concentrations were more than 1,000 ng/L and, at 300 sites, more than 10,000 ng/L, The Guardian reported.
“These sorts of concentrations raise concerns with me,” professor Crispin Halsall, a Lancaster University environmental chemist, told The Guardian. “You have the risk of livestock gaining access to those waters and [then PFAS is] in the human food web.”
PFAS are a class of chemicals that have been widely used in a variety of products including firefighting foam, nonstick cookware and stain- or water-resistant clothing. They are concerning because they have been linked to a number of human health ailments including cancer, immune suppression, metabolic diseases and developmental or reproductive problems. Further, they are difficult to break down and therefore persist in the environment or the human body, hence the name “forever chemicals.”
The map is the first such map to cover Europe and the UK, and the journalists based their work on peer-reviewed methods from the U.S.-based PFAS Project Lab and PFAS Sites and Community Resources Map, according to the project website.
“It is a necessary and also scary result that you have achieved here,” said Phil Brown of Northeastern University, who coordinated the U.S. map.
The map comes the same month that the ECHA proposed an EU-wide PFAS ban. In the UK, only the two PFAS PFOA and PFOS are covered by regulations, according to The Guardian.
“Our primary goal is to inform the public and to provide data to impacted community members, researchers and regulators, and to contribute to building knowledge on PFAS contamination for the public interest,” Le Monde wrote. “Potentially contaminated sites could therefore be prioritized by governments to conduct sampling campaigns and tailor action plans to protect the public.”