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Experts Demand Tougher Limits For Forever Chemicals In Drinking Water

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has called on the government to lower permitted levels of PFAS in tap water ten-fold.

Stricter limits on the amount of ‘forever chemicals’ permitted in drinking water in the UK should be significantly changed to mirror those of other countries, the institution has said.

‘Forever chemicals’ or PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of around 12,000 different chemicals commonly found in non-stick cookware, waterproof cosmetics, firefighting foams and products that resist grease and oil.

Despite their utility, they have been associated with dangerous health effects on humans, livestock and the environment. Some PFAS have even been linked to cancers, liver and thyroid disease, immune and fertility problems and developmental defects in unborn children.

The current guidance of PFAS in UK drinking water is 100 nanograms (ng) a litre for 47 individual types of PFAS, which the government has described as “exceptionally high”.

However, the RSC has asked to lower this to 10ng/l, to add more types of PFAS under the 100ng/l limit and to establish a national chemistry regulator. This proposal is closer to the standards set by the US and the EU.

“In the Drinking Water Inspectorate’s (DWI) own words, levels above 10ng/l pose a medium or high risk to public health,” said Stephanie Metzger, a policy adviser at the RSC. “We’re seeing 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.”

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Using the Forever Chemicals mapping project, the RSC has estimated that 5 per cent of watercourses in England and Wales qualify as high-risk for PFAS levels, and a third of them have medium-risk levels of PFAS. 

Oliver Loebel, the secretary general of EurEau, the European Federation of National Associations of Water Services, said he thought the UK would “likely act to bring its drinking water limits down sooner or later, depending on public pressure”.

The charity CHEM Trust’s head of advocacy Dr Anna Watson adds that the government should “restrict the use and production of all PFAS” and that water treatment facilities should be “upgraded to filter out as much PFAS as possible”. 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said water companies are required to carry out regular risk assessments and sampling for any substance – including PFAS – that could 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,” it added. 

Water UK said the country’s water companies treat and distribute “the best drinking water in the world”, adhering to the “high standards set by regulators”.

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Source: E&T


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