The toxic legacy of PFAS 'forever chemicals'

2 minute read

Our Chemical Pollution Specialist, Francesca gives us the low-down on PFAS 'forever chemicals', how they're effecting our marine wildlife and what needs to change.

The news that all the otters tested in England and Wales had PFAS present in their livers broke my heart. How many more of these tales need to come out before something is done and Governments take action?

You may have never come across the word PFAS; I have only really known about them for a few years, even though all of us have probably been surrounded by them our entire lives.

When I first found out about this group of chemicals, my chemistry knowledge warned me it was bad news. The stories of Lulu the killer whale, found in Scotland with 20 times the safe amount of PCBs (also highly persistent chemicals) in her body, replayed in my mind. How could this be happening again with yet another group of highly persistent chemicals?


Credit: Bart van meele maxbz / Unsplash

Their persistence is what’s most concerning. We can see the problem with plastics; anything that can stick around in the environment without breaking down will cause a problem. Over time, anything that persists, builds up (or accumulates) and impacts the environment and wildlife more and more. This additional burden on wildlife is ultimately impacting their resilience and their chances of survival, which is why chemical pollution has been dubbed one of the key factors in the current biodiversity crisis.

My work is to bring PFAS and the need for more regulations to the forefront. This includes collaborating on briefings with key scientists and other NGOs on the impacts and challenges we face with chemical pollution in the UK. My aim is to see PFAS phased out, and to achieve that- we need to influence everyone from businesses, Governments, procurements departments and industry.

In February of 2022 I joined with colleagues from the NGOs CHEM Trust, Fidra and Breast Cancer UK, to call for urgent action on the entire group of PFAS chemicals.

Even with all this bad news, I do have hope. PFAS pollution is being reported more often in the news and the wheels of the conversation really are turning.

The EU has already committed to banning all PFAS from all uses not considered essential and the UK has initiated a regulatory management options analysis (RMOA) for PFAS.

Now is the time to apply pressure on the UK Government, to ensure that the legacy we leave behind for future generations isn’t tainted with toxic chemicals like PFAS.

PFAS are already leaving a toxic legacy that will affect generations of marine life to come, there is no time to waste and we must act immediately to prevent it getting any worse.

Dr Francesca Bevan