UK ‘lagging behind’ on contaminants

Spill Response Expo blog post 1

Environmental consultancy WSP has warned that UK regulators are not paying adequate attention to contaminants that are potentially toxic.

Although other nations are actively investigating the uses of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), contaminated land experts from WSP are worried that they are being relatively neglected in the UK.

While PFOS has been banned in Europe - having been previously used to protect carpets, textiles and leather, and as an ingredient in fire-fighting foams and cleaning products - it is still often present in rivers and some foods.

Exposure to PFOA is most common through the ingestion of contaminated water or food, and PFOA is still produced and used in electronics, food containers (made from paper) and non-stick cooking products such as Teflon.

Studies have been published in America that link PFOA with thyroid disease, hypertension and cancers. The chemicals are also controlled under REACH regulations and the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants.

However, despite this, WSP experts say that the UK needs to be more proactive in investigating contaminants and their effects, as they are in countries such as Australia, USA and Sweden.

WSP’s director of contaminated land and remediation, Richard Clayton, said there “hasn’t really been any discussion about PFOA and PFOS in the UK”, and that it wasn’t clear whether this was due to a lack of resources or motivation to start tackling the problem.

In the UK there is minimal evidence of proactive work being done by regulators or the industry to search for and remediate the issues, consultants from the firm added.

Ross Pollock, remediation practice lead at WSP, has called for “more awareness and education” when it comes to carrying out due diligence and site investigations.

The widespread problem presented by PFOS and PFOA is due to these contaminants being found all across the environment, Pollock added, with farms, airports and wastewater treatment plants being among the main contributors to the issue.

“You can’t clean it up as such as there are currently no destructive techniques available for PFOS and PFOA, you can only contain it,” said Clayton.