Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS)  - why you need to get prepared!

Joanne Kwan, Project manager, CIRIA, joanne.kwan@ciria.org

Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS ) are a group of  man-made substances used in  many  industrial and consumer products such as carpeting, apparels, fire-fighting foams,  metal plating, stain repellents, polishes, paints, and coatings because of their resistance to water, oil and heat.  There is evidence to indicate soils and groundwater in certain locations within the UK have been impacted by these substances.

PFAS has been known to cause bad effect on human health such as eased affect growth, learning, and behaviour of infants and older children, increase cholesterol level, etc. In the US and Australia, there have been growing number of litigation associated with PFAS and have developed a series of good practice guidance on the subject

Awareness of PFAS in UK is not high, even though it is a regulated contaminant according to the Environment Agency (EA). In 2016 there was a case heard in the UK High Court between 3M and the States of Guernsey where the latter have spent ‘millions’ in treating the contaminant https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/12115814/Guernsey-and-3M-in-legal-fight-over-fire-extinguisher-chemicals.html

CIRIA held the first UK one day PFAS seminar on 15 Oct 2019 where a number leading legal experts, Pubic Health England, EA and practitioners from round the world presented.  It was agreed that there is an urgent need for the construction industry in the UK to take PFAS more seriously and to learn from other countries so that we don’t make the same mistakes. 

One of the highlights of the event was EA’s Chemicals Assessment Unit explained what they have found out from a research project looking at what PFAS are potentially in use in the UK and/or present in the environment and the gaps in scientific and technical knowledge on PFAS in use within Europe. 

‘Best thing - General awareness and incidence – James mapped distribution poster for SW and GW.
I didn’t come away with an impression we had a very clear understanding of the toxicity and hence standards to be used for risk assessment and to instigate remediation. ‘ 

Barbara Keenan
EA Groundwater Hydrology and Contaminated Land Wessex Area

‘The program was another step to raise awareness of the issues, real and perceived, surrounding PFAS. As an emerging issue, connecting with stakeholders across the full spectrum is extremely valuable as we chart a course to manage these potential liabilities moving forward
Kurt Beil  GHD

This event and this research will hopefully stimulate further work to address the data gaps in both the regulatory and academic spheres.  CIRIA is keen to do more work on PFAS and has developed a proposal to  show case how other countries assess and manage PFAS risk and provide guidance for UK projects. For more information please visit the project page or contact Joanne Kwan at CIRIA (joanne.kwan@ciria.org)