From Lisbon to Madrid: Investigating the PFAS Threat in Portugal and Spain

Portugal and Spain, renowned for their warm climates, stunning landscapes, and Mediterranean charm, are now grappling with an invisible adversary—PFAS contamination. These per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, dubbed “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment, have infiltrated the soils, drinking water sources, and aquatic ecosystems across the Iberian Peninsula. In this article, we delve into the investigation of the PFAS threat, shedding light on the potential ecological and human health risks posed by these substances and exploring the urgent need for concerted efforts to combat the contamination in both Portugal and Spain.

Origins of PFAS in Portugal and Spain

The origins of PFAS contamination in Portugal and Spain are multifaceted. One major source is the historical use of firefighting foam at military bases and airports, which contain PFAS compounds known for their effectiveness in suppressing fuel fires. As a result, these firefighting foams have left a toxic legacy, with PFAS seeping into the soil and groundwater. Additionally, industries such as textile manufacturing, electronics, and food processing have contributed to the PFAS burden through their use and disposal of PFAS-containing products. Moreover, the widespread use of PFAS-based pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture has further exacerbated the contamination, as these chemicals can persist in the environment for decades.

PFAS Contamination map in Europe

How do you get in contact with PFAS?

Contact with PFAS can occur through various routes, including:

  1. Consumer Products: PFAS can be present in everyday consumer products such as non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant carpets, and food packaging materials. Direct contact with these products can lead to exposure to PFAS.
  2. Drinking Water: PFAS can contaminate water sources, including groundwater and surface water, due to industrial discharges, improper waste disposal, or firefighting foam runoff. Drinking water sources contaminated with PFAS can be a significant pathway for exposure.
  3. Food Contamination: PFAS can accumulate in the food chain through contaminated water, soil, or packaging materials. Consuming seafood, particularly fish from contaminated water bodies, or crops grown in PFAS-contaminated soil can contribute to PFAS exposure.
  4. Workplace Exposure: Certain occupations, such as firefighters, industrial workers, and employees in facilities where PFAS are manufactured or used, may face occupational exposure to PFAS through direct contact or inhalation of PFAS-containing substances.
  5. Indoor Air: PFAS compounds, particularly those used in stain-resistant treatments and fire retardants, can be released into the air and accumulate indoors. Inhaling contaminated indoor air or dust particles can lead to exposure.

It is important to note that PFAS exposure can vary depending on the specific sources and activities in a person’s environment. Understanding potential exposure pathways and taking necessary precautions, such as using alternatives to PFAS-containing products or using filtration systems for drinking water, can help reduce exposure to these chemicals.

PFAS and your Health

The presence of PFAS compounds in the environment raises significant concerns for human health. Studies have linked PFAS exposure to various adverse health effects, including developmental issues, liver damage, immune system disorders, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Given the potential dangers, authorities in Portugal and Spain have begun to take action. In recent years, monitoring programs have been implemented to assess PFAS levels in water sources, soil, and food. Regulatory measures and PFAS restrictions on the use of PFAS-containing products have been put in place to prevent further contamination. Additionally, there is an ongoing effort to remediate affected sites and develop strategies for the safe disposal of PFAS-containing waste.

PFAS and Health
Fonte: Agencia Europeia do Ambiente

The fight against PFAS on the Iberian Peninsula

Despite all efforts, challenges remain in addressing the PFAS threat in Portugal and Spain. One major obstacle is the complex nature of PFAS compounds, which can travel long distances through water and air, making contamination difficult to contain and mitigate. Furthermore, the cleanup and remediation of contaminated sites require significant resources and expertise. Collaboration between government agencies, industry stakeholders, and scientific communities is crucial to developing effective strategies for managing and reducing PFAS contamination. By investigating the PFAS threat and raising awareness about its implications, we can strive towards a healthier and more sustainable future for both Portugal and Spain, free from the clutches of this pervasive environmental hazard.

PFAS hotspots in Portugal

According to this source the below map indicates nine locations with a contamination equal to or greater than 10 n/l:

  • Bravães (Ponte da Barca, 190 ng/l);
  • Praia Pontilhão da Valeta (Arcos de Valdevez, 160 ng/l);
  • Penide/Areias de Vilar (Barcelos, 350 ng/l);
  • Albufeira de Crestuma-Lever (Vila Nova de Gaia, 460 ng/l);
  • Montemor-o-Velho (240 ng/l);
  • Muge (Salvaterra de Magos, 3200 ng/l);
  • Ribeira Vale do Morto (Elvas; 10 ng/l);
  • Monte da Vinha (Elvas; 750 ng/l);
  • Ermidas do Sado (Santiago do Cacém, 450 ng/l).
Fonte: Watershed Investigations, The Guardian

PFAS contamination levels for Spain & your location

Compared to Portugal, Spain has a larger PFAS footprint. Use the following interactive map to get an insight into the contamination levels for Spain and your location. Another great tool to determine whether you have PFAS-containing products and/or materials is the following link.

Removing PFAS from your drinking water

Water filters play an important role in removing various contaminants from drinking water. When it comes to removing PFAS from water, not all water filters are created equal. Different types of filters vary in their effectiveness in removing PFAS compounds. Here are some common types of water filters and their effectiveness in PFAS removal:

  1. Activated Carbon Filters: Activated carbon filters, including granular activated carbon (GAC) and carbon block filters, are commonly used for general water filtration. They have moderate effectiveness in removing some types of PFAS compounds, including shorter-chain PFAS. However, they may not be as effective in removing longer-chain PFAS compounds.
  2. Reverse Osmosis Filters: Reverse osmosis (RO) filters are considered one of the most effective methods for PFAS removal. RO systems use a semi-permeable membrane to remove a wide range of contaminants, including PFAS compounds. They can effectively remove both shorter-chain and longer-chain PFAS compounds, providing a high level of filtration.
  3. Ion Exchange Filters: Ion exchange filters, such as those using activated alumina or specialty resins, can be effective in removing certain types of PFAS compounds. However, their effectiveness may vary depending on the specific PFAS chemicals present in the water. Some ion exchange filters are specifically designed for PFAS removal and may offer better performance in this regard.

It’s important to note that the effectiveness of a water filter can depend on factors such as the concentration and types of PFAS compounds present in the water, as well as the filter’s design, quality, and maintenance. Additionally, the flow rate and contact time of water with the filter can also affect its performance.

If you are concerned about PFAS in your water supply, it’s advisable to choose a water filter that has been independently tested and certified for PFAS removal. For example, Doulton’s Ultracarb & ATC Super Sterasyl filter elements have been tested successfully for PFAS removal. Find the test results on the respective product pages.

Update! The Phoenix Gravity has now been tested succesfully for the removal of PFAS (under the allowed maximum concentration) upto 3.000 liter per pair of filters.

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