Wildlife around the world – including the UK – are being exposed to pollutants known as “forever chemicals”, according to a study.
Researchers say that per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been documented to contaminate or potentially harm 330 species worldwide, including polar bears, tigers, monkeys, pandas, dolphins, birds and fish.
Man-made substances are nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down over time and can remain permanently in the air, soil, water and body.
They have been widely used since the 1940s in many everyday products such as non-stick pans, food packaging, carpets, furniture and firefighting foam.
However, there is global concern about the impact of PFAS use on human health and the environment, with the substances linked to cancers and liver, kidney and thyroid diseases.
People can come into contact with PFAS compounds by drinking contaminated water or eating food grown or caught near where the chemicals are produced.
Now the US-based campaign group Environmental Working Group (EWG) has carried out a major mapping project to highlight the scale of their spread in the environment, using research from more than 100 recent studies of PFAS contamination in animals.
It found more than 120 unique PFAS compounds in animals, including some endangered or threatened species.
In the United Kingdomthe project highlighted PFAS contamination European otters, a protected species, in waterways in Lancashire – and on the northern hooks on the east and west coasts of Scotland.
PFAS have been found in around 17,000 sites across the UK and Europe, with the highest levels in Britain found in a discharge from a chemical plant in the River Wyre, near Blackpool.
“From country to country and across continents, PFAS pollution is everywhere,” the EWG said.
“No matter the location, no matter the species, almost every time we test we find contamination from these toxic chemicals.
“And the EWG map reflects exactly what we know now—given the extent of PFAS contamination, wildlife in many other locations around the world are likely to be contaminated.”
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The nonprofit group called for urgent national and international regulatory action to protect wildlife from PFAS contamination.
In August 2021, the UK Environment Agency published data from the PFAS Contamination Monitoring Study in English Rivers, Estuaries and Groundwater to assess the use, sources and environmental pathways of PFAS.
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The study found that 10 types of PFAS were widely detected in the English aquatic environment.
“PFAS are likely to be widely present in English surface and groundwater,” the study concluded.
Sky News has contacted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for comment.