PFAS: Everything you should know

Table of Contents

We often hear that the Netherlands is one of the countries with the cleanest drinking water in the world. Number seven on the top 10 list to be precise, according to the Environment Performance Index. But how clean is this exactly? What are toxic chemicals like PFAS and what should you know about them? We highlight everything you need to know about PFAS in this article. 

What are PFAS?

PFAS stand for Poly and Perfluoroalkyl substances. This is a collective name for more than 6000 substances that have a potential harmful effect on both personal health and environment. Some of these include substances like perfluorooctanoic acids (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and HFPO-DA (GenX). This is a mouth full. But in short: these substances in particular involve health risks like affecting our immune system. For these chemicals it is also said that they can lead to cancer, depending on the quantity a person receives and the amount of time. This can depend strongly per person. The PFOS and PFOA are labeled ‘substances of very high concern’.  

PFAS do not normally occur in the environment, they are man-made. They end up in our environment due to production or processing waste. PFAS can spread via water, soil and air. Hence, it is not strange that the person body contains some PFAS, simply due to the fact that we drink water and eat food. PFAS have specific properties such as fire resistance and dirt- and water repellency. Because of this, they have been used for years. We use them in all kinds of everyday products and processes, such as paint, clothing and cosmetics.

PFAS in your body

The debate about the quality of our drinking water is intensified in the last years. Nu.nl, Metro news or the NPO. These are just a minor selection of media that mentioned (and questioned) the availability of healthy water. Now, but also in the near future. It is currently known that PFAS is found throughout all our environment. Hence, it can appear in our food and drinking water. The amount of this is still limited. Especially for people wo eat and drink a varied diet. But questions arise about how this will be in the near future, as more and more products and processes contains toxic chemicals. Did you know? The Rijksoverheid even advices that people should not eat vegetables and fruits out of their own garden when they live in approximately a 1 kilometer radius from the DuPont/Chemours factory in Dordrecht or the Sluisdijk in Helmond. It is also advised to minimise eating freshly caught sweet water fish since they can contain PFAS, what ends up in your body.    

Luckily our smart water filters can filter out harmful chemicals like the PFAS for companies. But unfortunately our systems are only available for offices and retailers at the moment. Meaning that people using tap water and food are still confronted with this.

The up- but mainly downsides

PFAS are used for years now in a wide variety of products and processes. This is mainly because of their specific useful properties like being fire resistant and dirt- and water repellency. Some examples are a pan with a non-sticking coating, a raincoat, baking paper. Even the pizza place in the neighborhood uses boxes with PFAS chemicals. The downside is however that they have negative impact on both your body and the environment. PFAS are very consistent, spreading easily and are hardly biodegradable. As a result, construction projects are stagnated, the costs of public space management are rising and the necessary maintenance of waterways cannot be carried out.

The Netherlands is working on a ban on PFAS together with Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In these countries, companies and organizations are urged to spread information about PFAS chemicals and to look for alternatives.  

Please see this interactive map from the Expertise Centre of PFAS about the current policy and PFAS contamination values per municipality.

Solutions for the current PFAS problem

Alright. So we now know the downsides. So what do we do to solve this problem? Apart from working on a ban on these contaminations? The Centre of Expertise of PFAS mentions five solutions:

1. Determine the current status of soil values. 
2. Increase knowledge in the chain and enhance communication and collaboration.
3. Accelerate decision making regarding the action framework.
4. Simplify permits for dumping dredged material and storage contaminated soil
.
5. Develop a working method and communication strategy that prevents similar problems in the near future. 

One partial solution we would like to add:
6. Instal the Aquablu Refill in your office or working space. 

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