Forever chemicals: Report finds ‘alarming’ levels of groundwater contamination in Europe


Samples have revealed high levels of Trifluoroacetic acid in ten European countries’ water supplies.


A joint survey of 23 surface and six groundwater samples from ten EU countries has unearthed high levels of a largely unknown and unregulated “forever chemical”.

The concerning levels of Trifluoroacetic acid, or TFA, were detected in Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Sweden.

The survey was conducted by member organisations of the European Pesticide Action Network (PAN), who called for swift political action to tackle the problem.

It is currently not strictly regulated, as it is categorised as “non-relevant” by European authorities.

TFA is a type of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS), a group of man-made chemicals used in consumer products that don’t break down for thousands of years. It has been thought to damage both fertility and child development.

The concentrations found in the water samples were 70 times higher than the average contamination of all of examined PFAS combined, according to analysis conducted by the Karlsruhe Water Technology Centre.

According to PAN Europe, the EU Water Framework Directive, which came into force in 2000, should have prevented this contamination. The directive’s article 4 requires member states to take necessary measures to reverse the concentration of pollutants that are a result of human activity.

Helmut Burtscher-Schaden, biochemist at the environmental organisation GLOBAL 2000 said it was highly concerning to find a “forever chemicals” spread so widely.

“Comparable high concentrations of more prominent PFAS are usually only encountered at contamination hot spots,” he explained.

“The PFAS problem, which for 25 years has primarily been understood as a problem of highly contaminated but localised hotspots, has now spread to all bodies of water.”

Based on the 23 samples taken from ground and surface water, the highest levels of TFA were found in Belgium’s Mehaigne river, Germany’s Elbe and the Seine in France.

The issue of water quality is one of the themes of European Green Week, which runs until Thursday in Brussels.

The Brussels Minister for Climate Transition Alain Maron has said, “We need to move towards other ways of marketing them. Quite frankly, I don’t see how we can get rid of PFAS other than by stopping releasing them into nature.”

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