TFA ‘forever chemicals’ found in abundance across water samples

  • Post last modified:May 28, 2024
  • Reading time:4 mins read

According to a coalition of non-governmental organisations, Europe’s rivers, lakes and ground water contain “alarming” levels of a pesticide-like forever chemical.

TFA forever chemicals

Trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) is a very strong acid that we widely use in cosmetics, non-stick pans, and fire extinguishers. Unfortunately though, it is a type of PFA – which we also know as a forever chemical. There are around 10,000 of these. They are able to remain in the environment and accumulate in the bloodstream, bones, and tissue of various organisms, including humans.

It is not known exactly how long it takes for PFAS to degrade, but estimates are between a decade to well over 1,000 years. 

In recent years, scientists have discovered them in water, air, fish and soil in the most remote corners of the earth. However, concerns have started to grow over their possible impact on human health. 

The new report, which was released on Monday 27 May, found that:

All water samples analysed contained PFAS. More than 98 per cent of the total PFAS detected were TFA, a known degradation product of PFAS pesticides and other PFAS.

In total, the European Pesticide Action Network (PAN Europe) and its members analysed over 24 surface and groundwater samples from 10 EU countries and found PFAS in all of them. 

They said the abundance of TFA in particular represented “the largest known area-wide contamination by a man-made chemical”. This well exceeds limits proposed by the EU.

Alarming levels of contamination

In the EU, the drinking water directive limit is 500mg/l for total PFA’s. Shockingly, 79% of the samples had levels exceeding this. 

PAN Europe said in their report: 

The extent of the contamination is alarming and calls for decisive action.

One of the biggest sources of TFA is the use of pesticides. Additionally, certain cooling systems also release them into the atmosphere meaning eventually, they enter the water cycle through rain.  

TFA is highly soluble in water, this makes it the perfect groundwater contaminant. It is also extremely mobile and good at avoiding soil and other natural filters which ordinarily remove pollutants. This allows them to remain in the groundwater for centuries. 

The EU has committed to gradually ban PFA chemicals as they aim for a pollution-free environment. Additionally, since February 2023 the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has had a proposal for a group ban on the manufacture, use and import of PFAS.

Whilst research is still ongoing to understand the risk PFAS pose to human health, so far it suggests they can cause various types of cancer, risks to pregnancy, and changes to both cholesterol levels and liver enzymes. 

PAN Europe have called the findings a ‘’political failure’’ and called for urgent interventions including a rapid ban on PFA’s and rethink on the threat posed by individual chemicals, such as TFA.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Matti Blume – Wikimedia, resized to 1200×900 under licence CC BY-SA 3.0

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