A European map of the footprints of contamination by perfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS or, more informally, as “eternal chemicals” — was released this Thursday by an investigation and journalism consortium that brought together various media in a common complaint. The work reveals that these toxic substances, which are still used in various products, were found in waters, soils and sediments from several countries in the European Union and the United Kingdom. Portugal appears in this document with eight points of contamination.
“Pollutants known as ‘eternal chemicals’, which do not break down in the environment, accumulate in the body and can be toxic, have been found at elevated levels in thousands of locations across the UK and Europe.” publishedthis Thursday, at The Guardian. Although the map marks eight points of high contamination in Portugal, it is not possible to identify the exact location of these areas at risk. PÚBLICO asked one of the members of the consortium for data on the Portuguese case, but so far has not received a response.
The alert with the findings of the investigation was released at the same time in several European media. The investigative and journalism consortium involves the following organizations or media outlets: Watershed Investigations, Le Monde (France), NDR, WDR, Suddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), RADAR Magazine It is Le Scienze (Italy), The Investigative Desk It is NRC (Netherlands), Journalismfund.eu and Investigative Journalism for Europe.
The disclosure of the map of contamination with persistent substances comes a few days after the European Union announced its intention to ban PFAS from 2026, or the following year. PFAS constitute a class with more than nine thousand chemical substances valued for their properties non-stick and detergents. That’s why they are used in countless products, from food packaging to kitchenware, textiles, paints, fire-fighting foams and medical products.
These substances are informally referred to as “eternal chemicals” because they are not easily degraded, persisting in nature and accumulating in living organisms. The map now released shows that these persistent products have been found in around 17,000 locations across the UK and Europe. Of that total, PFAS were detected at high concentrations of over a thousand nanograms (ng) per liter of water in about 640 zones, and over ten thousand ng/l in 300 other locations.
Two PFAS have been particularly linked to various health problems: PFOA has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension; while PFOS has been associated with reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney and thyroid disease. PFAS have even been associated with immunotoxicity.
“These types of concentrations raise concerns,” said Crispin Halsall, a professor at Lancaster University in the UK who specializes in environmental chemistry, quoted by the guardian. “There is a risk of cattle having access to these waters and [, nesse caso, as PFAS entram] in the human food web”.
The expert also recalls that the PFAS in groundwater are “a big problem”, as these reserves are often captured for agriculture or, even worse, for human consumption.
Ian Cousins, an environmental scientist at the University of Stockholm, says that sites with readings greater than 1,000 nanograms per kilogram should be “urgently assessed” so that they can be remedied.
“In places [altamente] contaminated, local authorities should consider testing to ensure that PFAS levels are safe in local produce. This would help determine whether local health advice and publication campaigns are needed to discourage regular consumption of wild fish, shellfish, eggs [produzidos por galinhas] outdoors,” he added to guardian.