MAPPED: The UK sites where PFAS has been detected

An investigation by journalists from 18 newsrooms across Europe has identified more than 17,000 sites across the continent that are contaminated by the “forever chemicals” PFAS, including hundreds in the UK, as well as many more sites that are presumed to be contaminated by PFAS due to current or past industrial activity. Scroll down to explore the map.

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The  Forever Pollution Project's map was created following a cross-border collaboration by outlets including Le Monde (France), DR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany) and the Guardian and Watershed Investigations in the UK and reveals contamination spreading all over Europe. According to the Forever Pollution Project, the journalists gathered 100 datasets and filed dozens of freedom of information requests to build the first-of-its-kind map of PFAS contamination across the continent.

PFAS contamination in Europe: Sites where PFAS has been identified at 10ng/l or over

Source: The Forever Pollution Project

PFAS, short for per and polyfluorinated alkyl substances – a family of around 10,000 chemicals – are used in a huge range of consumer products from cookware and cosmetics to furniture and food packaging, to a wide array of industrial processes.

PFAS are valued for their non-stick properties, but they do not break down in the environment, which means the pollution burden is forever increasing. They are bioaccumulative, meaning that they build up in organisms who have the misfortune to ingest them, and they biomagnify up the food chain so those at the top receive the highest concentrations via their prey.

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The map shows more than 17,000 sites across Europe where PFAS contamination has been detected, including more than 1,500 in the UK. According to the Forever Pollution Project, each of these sites has been sampled for PFAS in water, soil or living organisms by scientific teams and environmental agencies between 2003 and 2023. These measures have found PFAS at levels equal to or greater than 10 nanograms per liter (ng/L).

The project also identified more 21,000 presumptive contamination sites across Europe, including more than 800 in the UK. These are sites with current or past industrial activity documented as both using and emitting PFAS. Military bases, for example, are major users of "AFFF" firefighting foams, which contain PFAS. The manufacturing of certain plastics called fluoropolymers also requires the use of PFAS.

Despite the huge numbers of contaminated sites detected by the project, these are believed to be the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, the Forever Pollution Project cautions that some areas may appear on the map to have worse pollution problems than others but this could be a result of that region having a more rigorous monitoring regime in place, or being more willing to share data.

The publication of the map comes at a time when the UK begins to prepare restrictions on PFAS. The Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency are aiming to publish a regulatory management options analysis (RMOA) for PFAS by the end of the spring. The RMOA will analyse the risks posed by PFAS, and inform future policy.

Earlier this month, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has published a long-awaited proposal for a group restriction on PFAS, in an effort to minimise the 'inevitable' adverse effects of the persistent organic pollutants.

The Forever Pollution Project was initially developed by Le Monde (France), NDR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), RADAR Magazine and Le Scienze (Italy), The Investigative Desk and NRC (Netherlands) with the financial support of and Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU); further investigated and published by Knack (Belgium), Denik Referendum (Czech Republic), Politiken (Denmark), YLE (Finland), Reporters United (Greece), Latvian Radio (Latvia), Datadista (Spain), SRF (Switzerland), Watershed Investigations/The Guardian (UK); and supported by Arena for Journalism in Europe for cross-border collaboration.

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