Switzerland’s Groundwater, the primary source of drinking water for 80 percent of Switzerland, has been found to be contaminated with the toxic forever chemicals known as “PFAS“.
These findings come from a comprehensive study conducted by the National Groundwater Observatory across more than 500 measuring stations.
Forever chemicals, scientifically known as PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), have made their way into almost half of Switzerland’s groundwater sources. These chemicals have earned their nickname due to their resistance to breaking down in the environment and their presence poses a serious health risk, as they have been linked to conditions such as cancer, thyroid disease, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. PFAS can enter the human body through various means, including water, food, and even the air we breathe.
While some forms of forever chemicals have been banned in Switzerland, residues still persist in the environment. The highest concentrations were found for PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), which was largely banned in the country in 2011. This particular PFAS type has the most significant health risks. It was once commonly used as a protective coating for textiles like carpets and leather.
Switzerland has established safe limits of between 0.3 and 0.5 micrograms of PFAS per liter of groundwater, with a limit of three individual PFAS types per sample. Alarming, these limits were exceeded only at one measuring station.
The investigation points to firefighting foams containing PFAS as one of the main culprits for contaminating groundwater. These foams are used in fire extinguishing training areas, industrial zones, reservoirs, and railways. They can seep into the soil, introducing forever chemicals into groundwater. Other sources of PFAS contamination include landfills and wastewater.
Switzerland is now contemplating the need for an action plan to reduce human and environmental exposure to these toxic chemicals. In the European Union, regulations regarding PFAS are ongoing. The EU currently restricts specific PFAS types, with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) being banned, while PFOS is prohibited in most applications.
The European Commission has proposed a full ban on PFAS, although manufacturers are opposing this move. Various regulatory bodies are set to vote on this proposed legislation next year, and if approved, it could come into force in 2026.
A recent investigation by the Forever Pollution Project revealed that 17,000 sites across Europe and the UK are contaminated with these toxic chemicals. Contamination hotspots were particularly dense in Belgium, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy. In the UK, widespread PFAS presence was found in almost 40 percent of tested sites between 2014 and 2019.
This alarming contamination of Switzerland’s groundwater underscores the pressing need for comprehensive measures to mitigate the impact of forever chemicals on our environment and public health. It’s a challenge that extends beyond national borders and demands international cooperation and regulation to protect our most vital resource: clean drinking water.