New European map of ‘evergreen’ chemicals reveals contamination in Portugal

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A consortium of researchers and journalists has published a new map showing the prevalence of chemicals known as “eternals” across Europe and the UK. The information shows that there are nine sites of contamination in Portugal.

A huge mapping project has revealed that, as The Guardian reports, “pollutants known as persistent chemicals, which do not break down in the environment, accumulate in the body and can be toxic, have been found at high levels in thousands of sites across the UK and Europe”.

These ‘persistent’ chemicals, formally known as perfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS), are nothing more than a family of around 10,000 chemicals that are highly valued for their non-stick and detergent properties. Because they do not break down, but are still used in a wide range of products, they have left a trail of contamination in water, soil and sediment at around 17,000 sites across Europe and the UK. Of these, PFAS have been detected at concentrations above 1,000 nanograms per litre of water (ng/l) at around 640 sites and above 10,000 ng/l at 300 sites.

New European map of 'evergreen' chemicals reveals contamination in Portugal

I am concerned about these kinds of concentrations. There is a risk that cattle will have access to these waters and [then PFAS will be] in the human food web.

Crispin Halsall, an environmental chemist at Lancaster University, added that there are also risks for people who “use wildlife as a food source, such as fishing and wild birds”, and that the presence of PFAS in groundwater “is a big concern” if it is abstracted for agriculture or used as a water source.

Crispin Halsall, Environmental Chemist at Lancaster University
Crispin Halsall, Environmental Chemist at Lancaster University

As Público points out, there are two PFAS that have been particularly linked to various health problems. One is PFOA, which has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension, and the other is PFOS, which has been linked to reproductive and developmental problems, as well as liver, kidney and thyroid problems.

According to the map presented by The Guardian, there are nine points in Portugal with a contamination of 10 n/l or more:

  • Bravães (Ponte da Barca, 190 ng/l);
  • Pontilhão da Valeta beach (Arcos de Valdevez, 160 ng/l).
  • Penide/Areias de Vilar (Barcelos, 350 ng/l);
  • Crestuma-Lever reservoir (Vila Nova de Gaia, 460 ng/l);
  • Montemor-o-Velho (240 ng/l);
  • Muge (Salvaterra de Magos, 3200 ng/l);
  • Ribeira Vale do Morto (Elvas; 10 ng/l);
  • Monte da Vinha (Elvas; 750 ng/l);
  • Ermidas do Sado (Santiago do Cacém, 450 ng/l).

According to Ian Cousins, an environmental scientist at Stockholm University, sites with records above 1,000 n/kg should be “urgently assessed” so that the problem can be remedied.

In [highly] contaminated areas, local authorities should consider testing to ensure that PFAS levels in local products are safe. This would help determine whether local health councils and publicity campaigns are needed to discourage regular consumption of wild fish, shellfish, eggs [from free-range chickens]…

According to Público, the research and journalism consortium that developed the map includes the following organisations and media outlets Watershed Investigations, Le Monde (France), NDR, WDR, Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), RADAR Magazine and Le Science (Italy), The Investigative Desk and NRC (Netherlands), Journalismfund.eu and Investigative Journalism for Europe.

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