2023-02-23

EUROPE - Nearly 23,000 sites all over Europe are contaminated by the “forever chemical” PFAS, an exclusive, months-long investigation from 18 European newsrooms shows. The investigation “The Forever Pollution Project” revealed an additional 21,500 presumptive contamination sites due to current or past industrial activity. This contamination spreads all over Europe.

In early February 2023, the European Chemicals Agency ECHA published a ban proposal on all PFAS – or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. “The Forever Pollution Project” can now reveal that there is way more contamination all over Europe than has been publicly known. The journalists gathered 100 datasets and filed dozens of FOIA requests to build a first-of-its-kind map of PFAS contamination in Europe.

The project shows that there are 20 manufacturing facilities and more than 2.300 sites in Europe that can be considered PFAS hotspots – places where contamination reaches levels considered to be hazardous to the health of people exposed to them. The problem: It’s extremely expensive to get rid of these chemicals, once they have found their way into the environment. The cost of remediation will likely reach the tens of billions of Euros. In several places, the authorities have already given up and decided to keep the toxic chemicals in the ground, because it’s not possible to clean them up.

Photo credit: Thomas Steffen - Le Monde

Read here where it all began

AWARDS

  • SEJ 22nd Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment,The Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, category 'Large market'. 2nd place.
  • 3rd Finalist for the 2023 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism awarded by the European Parliament (13 October 2023).
  •  SZ/NDR/WDR was nominated at the German Reporter Award in the category Data Journalism (Germany), 1 November 2023.
  • Leana Hosea and Rachel Salvidge (Watershed Investigations) were “Highly commended”, category Energy & Environment Journalism at the British Journalism Awards for their series of PFAS articles in The Guardian, December 2023.
  • Stephane Horel, coordinator and one of the initiators of the Forever Pollution investigation, received for it the 2024 AJSPI Best Science Journalist Prize from The French Association of Science Journalists. 

IMPACT 

The project has attracted the attention of key regulatory and scientific bodies in many European countries as well as internationally, and has had a large impact.

FURTHER DEVELOPMENT

Scientific paper

We have submitted a scientific paper version of the project to the major scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology and it is currently under peer-review.

Draft title:

PFAS Contamination in Europe: Generating knowledge and mapping known and likely PFAS contamination with ‘expert-reviewed’ journalism.

Co-authors: Alissa Cordner, Phil Brown, Ian T. Cousins, Martin Scheringer, Luc Martinon, Gary Dagorn, Raphaëlle Aubert, Leana Hosea, Rachel Salvidge, Catharina Felke, Nadja Tausche, Daniel Drepper, Gianluca Liva, Ana Tudela, Antonio Delgado, Derrick Salvatore, Sarah Pilz, Stéphane Horel.

Abstract:

While the extent of environmental contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has mobilized considerable efforts around the globe in recent years, little data were publicly available in Europe. In an unprecedented experiment of “expert-reviewed journalism” involving twenty-nine journalists and seven scientific advisers, the cross-border collaborative project, the “Forever Pollution Project” (FPP), drew both on scientific methods and investigative journalism techniques such as open-source intelligence (OSINT) and freedom of information (FOI) requests to map contamination across Europe, making public data that previously had existed as “unseen science.” The FPP identified 20,176 known contamination sites, including 20 PFAS manufacturing facilities, and 21,429 “presumptive contamination sites,” including 13,769 sites presumably contaminated with fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) discharge, 2,911 industrial facilities, and 4,787 sites related to PFAS-containing waste. Finally, the FPP identified 232 "known PFAS users," a new category for sites with intermediate level of evidence on PFAS use and considered likely to be contamination sources. However, the true extent of contamination in Europe remains significantly underestimated due a lack of comprehensive geolocation, sampling, and publicly available data. This model of knowledge production and dissemination offers lessons for researchers, policy makers, and journalists about cross-field collaborations and data transparency.

Team members

Tim Luimes

Tim Luimes is a freelance investigative journalist based in The Netherlands.

Tim Luimes

Stéphane Horel

Stéphane Horel (France) is an investigative journalist at Le Monde.

Stéphane Horel

Tomas Vanheste

Tomas Vanheste is a Belgian investigative journalist.

Tomas Vanheste

Sarah Pilz

Sarah Pilz is a freelance investigative journalist from Germany.

Sarah Pilz

Gianluca Liva

Gianluca Liva is an Italian science journalist and science communicator.
 

Gianluca Liva

Ana Tudela

Ana Tudela is investigative economic journalist and co-founder of DATADISTA (Spain).

Ana Tudela

Antonio Delgado

Antonio Delgado is data journalist and co-founder of DATADISTA (Spain).

Antonio Delgado
Supported
€42,850 allocated on 23/02/2022
ID
ENV1/2022/044

PROJECT WEBSITE

ONLINE

PODCAST/RADIO

TELEVISION

IMPACT

Further presented at:

  •   14th International HCH (Lindane) & pesticides forum, Zaragoza (Spain) / online, 23 February 2023.
  • Side event of the United Nations’ Conference of the parties of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, Geneva (Switzerland), 02 May 2023.
  • Annual meeting of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Global Soil Partnership International Network on Soil Pollution (INSOP), online, 14 June 2023.
  • Soil reuse on reconstruction sites in the new Circular Economy era – Available regulatory frameworks and case studies of PFAS-contaminated sites management, National Technical University of Athens (Greece), ENYDRON / Online, 1st September 2023.
  • Health and Environmental Alliance (Heal) 20th anniversary, Brussels (Belgium), 3 October 2023.
  • CAR-PFAS Japan, Fourth international seminar on the consortium for analysis and remediation of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances in Japan, online, 10 October 2023.
  • European Commission Annual Forum on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, Brussels (Belgium), 20 October 2023.
  • Tackling PFAS pollution & Launch Knowledge Center Innovative Remediation Solutions, Belgian presidency of the European Union, Government of Flanders, Antwerp (Belgium), 1-2 February 2024.
  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Global Forum on the Environment dedicated to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, Paris (France) 12 February 2024
  • Government urged to act over concerns of ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water, The Standard, 18/10/2023

     

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