'Forever' pollution map of Europe created through collaborative journalism

2 Mar 2023 by The Water Diplomat

PFAS chemicals

A collaborative research effort by journalists and media across Europe has resulted in the development of an interactive map of pollution by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) across Europe. Dubbed the ‘Forever Pollution Project’ after the alternative name ‘forever chemicals’ that is also used to refer to these highly persistent compounds, the collaborative effort involved long term investigation by a group of 18 newsrooms of the location of more than 2100 sites in Europe that can be considered PFAS ‘hotspots’. In these areas, PFAS contamination can be considered to be hazardous to human health.

PFAS chemicals are often associated with Teflon, a product used to coat cookware and reduce the stickiness of frying pans, amongst other products. It was developed and patented by DuPont, and similar compounds were produced by other companies from the 1960’s onwards, amongst others in to produce a fire extinguishing foam. Certain kinds of PFAS such as perfluorooctanoic acid PFOA re particularly persistent and have been banned in the U.S. since 2015.

In January, the European Chemicals Agency received a proposal to restrict some 10 000 PFAS substances under REACH, a programme of the European Union concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals that dates from 2006. The proposal was submitted by regulatory authorities from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. In parallel, le Monde reported , chemical companies are lobbying to halt the restrictions. Since 2009,  PFAS substances have been listed as high risk substances under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants of 2001. Within the revised EU Water Directive, a proposed limit of 100 nanograms per litre, although it is not clear yet at which levels PFAS can be considered to be ‘safe’. Contamination by PFAS chemicals has been associated with cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.