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UK REACH publishes research on presence of PFAS in Great Britain


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A report from UK REACH published on Tuesday 4 April has revealed the extent to which so-called “forever chemicals” are used in Great Britain. The research has analysed how “forever chemicals” or PFAS (Poly-and perfluoroalkyl substances) are used, including exposure from everyday items such as food wrappers, cleaning products, and furniture coatings.

Marking the most comprehensive British analysis of these chemicals ever, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has identified the most common and most harmful uses of PFAS and what measures could be put in place to control and manage them.

The HSE report makes a number of recommendations including to limit the use of PFAS-containing foams used by firefighters to put out fires, as well as the use of PFAS in textiles, furniture, and cleaning products.

Dr Richard Daniels, director of HSE’s chemicals regulation division, said: “PFAS are a global issue of concern. We have looked at responses around the world, but it was vital we gathered the right information and evidence on how PFAS are used in Britain specifically.

“This has helped us work out where the right action could be taken to limit the use of PFAS and control exposures to people and the environment in this country.

“The reality is that PFAS substances, due to their persistent properties, will continue to be detected for many years – despite measures being taken to limit restrict or ban their use.

“We will now look at the availability and risks posed by alternatives to ensure maximum long-term protections can be gained.”

PFAS in firefighting foam

One of the key proposals is that, due to more comprehensive information being available, fire-fighting foams are prioritised for action. 

Dr Daniels continued: “There is evidence of occupational exposure and environmental harm that can come from current fire-fighting foams, and we can understand the concerns among firefighters. We encourage all affected to work with us in the scoping exercise.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “By improving our understanding of the potential risks posed by PFAS, we will be better equipped to tackle them.

“The HSE’s analysis is a key part of our efforts to protect us from these persistent chemicals – our Plan for Water recognises this and we will begin developing proposals to restrict PFAS in firefighting foams this year.

”This will build on our action to increase monitoring and support a ban or highly restrict specific PFAS both domestically and internationally, so that we can reduce the amount of PFAS entering our natural environment.”

FBU responds

Riccardo la Torre, Fire Brigades Union National Officer commented on the new report: “We welcome that the issue of firefighters’ exposure to PFAS is being identified and assessed. We are still digesting this report and will be considering whether these recommendations go far enough to protect firefighters from the serious health risks of PFAS. What is clear is that exposure to dangerous chemicals has been allowed to be part of firefighters’ work for far too long. Firefighters are getting ill and dying while the government and employers fail to act.

“Dr Richard Daniels rightly refers to the ‘occupational exposure’ firefighters face from PFAS in foams. No-one should face losing their health because of their job. That’s why the FBU demands urgent action on all fronts to protect firefighters from these deadly health risks while they are protecting the public from fires.

“In addition to eliminating exposures to PFAS we need other vital measures in place to prevent, mitigate and address exposure to dangerous chemicals. Firefighters also need annual health monitoring to catch diseases early, and access to compensation if they are diagnosed with an occupational disease.”

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