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Study reveals Europe’s dangerous ‘forever chemical hotspots’

In-depth research conducted by the Forever Pollution Project in collaboration with Le Monde and The Guardian has revealed that a massive 17,000 sites in Europe and the UK are plagued by dangerous levels of forever chemicals.

We’ve heard a lot about ‘forever chemicals’ and their effects on human health in the last few years.

At the moment, we know there are 4,700 different kinds of forever chemicals circulating the market. These are man-made toxic substances that do not break down once released into our natural environment.

Scientifically known as per-and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), they can be found in cookware and clothing products thanks to their non-stick and stain-repellent properties. They’re also useful ingredients for fire-repellent foams.

And while it’s true that PFAS make our lives easier in the short term, these chemicals have been proven to wreak havoc on our health. They have been linked to ‘high cholesterol, ulcerative pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, cancer, and decreased response to vaccines.’

At Thred, we recently covered how chemicals in our environment are reducing sperm counts and have increased the average penis size in the last three decades. This has led scientists to conclude that these harsh chemicals are disrupting the way human biology once worked.

Health and Environment Alliance | How PFAS chemicals affect women, pregnancy and human development: Health actors call for urgent action to phase them out

What did the research reveal?

With the creation of new policies around the persistence of forever chemicals, several nations have outlined the legal safety limits that can be present in drinking water.

For example, Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency says that drinking water must not contain more than 2 nanograms of PFAs per litre. If measurements are higher than this, local water and agriculture cannot be deemed safe enough to consume.

What’s concerning is that the study by Forever Pollution Project found PFAs at concentrations of more than 1,000 nanograms a litre of water at about 640 sites.

In a further 297 sites, the levels sit at 10,000 nanograms per litre.

The highest level of pollution can be found in Belgium. In Zwijndrecht, Flanders, where PFAS are produced on a large scale, concentrations in local water sources sat at 73 million nanograms per litre.

This is a whopping 36.5 million times higher than the recommended level.

For the 70,000 people living within 5km of the PFAS plant, blood tests are being offered to assess the presence of chemicals in their bodies. They have also been advised not to eat locally grown vegetables or eggs laid by local birds.

What are PFAS compounds and how can we test for them?

Cleaning up these chemicals won’t be easy.

Many areas contaminated have already seen local authorities decide to leave them in the ground, rather than spend billions of Euros to remediate the situation.

The report published by Le Monde opens with: ‘The invisible and harmful pollution will accompany humanity for centuries, even millennia.’

Countries with the strongest restrictions on the use of PFAS have done so because they believe stopping these chemicals from being released into the environment is the only way to prevent them from harming the planet and all life within it.

Click here to read the full report, complete with a map of the most dangerous hotspots.