Third of water courses carries ‘forever chemicals’ linked to cancer – as group calls for limit

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More than a third of water courses contain ‘forever chemicals’ linked to cancers and fertility issues, analysis has found.

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC) analysis found 35% and 37% of English and Welsh water courses that were tested contain a medium or high-risk level of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) respectively.

Serious health conditions have been linked to PFAS, including testicular cancer, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, liver damage and fertility issues.

The current guideline limit in¬†UK¬†drinking water is 100 nanograms per litre for individual PFAS, less than the EU’s 100ng/l limit for 20 individual PFAS’. The US is also introducing 4ng/l limits for PFOS and PFOA.

The RSC has now issued a campaign urging the government to reduce the UK’s limit to 10ng/l per PFAS and introduce a cap of 100ng/l of PFAS in drinking water.

Stephanie Metzger, policy advisor at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “We know that PFAS can be filtered from drinking water – the technology exists, so increasing the level of filtration is just a matter of expense and political will.

“In the Drinking Water Inspectorate’s own words, levels above 10 nanograms per litre pose a medium or high risk to public health.

“We’re seeing more and more studies that link PFAS to a range of very serious medical conditions, and so we urgently need a new approach for the sake of public health.”

The DWI’s classifications only apply to treated tap water, and the water bodies on the RSC’s map are not all drinking water sources.

Citing data from the Forever Pollution Project, RSC said samples from the River Thames have recorded the highest PFAS concentrations in the country.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said drinking water standards in England were of “an exceptionally high standard and are among the best in the world”.

They added: “Water companies are required to carry out regular risk assessments and sampling for any substance – including PFAS – that they believe may cause the water supply to pose a risk to human health.

“Work is continuing across government to help us assess levels of PFAS occurring in the environment, their sources and potential risks to inform future policy and regulatory approaches.”

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