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Arnika Finds PFAS and BFRs in Prague Sampling Sites
Prague, Czech Republic The large group of perfluorinated chemicals, collectively known as PFAS and often called "Forever Chemicals" because they are not easily broken down, have been found nearly everywhere researchers have looked for them — but particularly in food, water supplies, and soils. Czech Republic NGO Arnika recently studied sources in and around Prague, and found PFAS, its related chemicals, and additionally brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in nearly every sample. The study, Forever Chemicals Round and Round, made clear that identifying and continually monitoring PFAS and BFR sources is vital for community health and environmental sustainability.
Although regulation of these chemicals is increasing, the categories of perfluorinated and brominated chemicals are large. So as one chemical is identified and listed for restriction, another is adopted for use, all without understanding the underlying health effects. Ironically, many of these substances have known, safe alternatives. In response to studies showing PFAS in blood samples of firefighters, airports have been moving to safer fire-fighting foams, replacing fluorinated forms, which constitute roughly one-third of known PFAS contamination and which have been found in water ways near airports, including in Arnika's recent study.
“Perfluorinated substances and brominated flame retardants are not essential for the majority of applications and there are already safer alternatives on the market today. Therefore, their production should stop immediately. We call on both manufacturers and legislators to restrict the use of these toxic substances for all non-essential purposes. The deterioration in the quality of drinking water and the global environmental contamination caused by PFAS are irreversible,” says Jitka Strakova from Arnika.
In use since the 1940s, PFAS have been used in a wide variety of consumer products including water and stain resistant clothing, fast food wrappers, lubricants, carpet treatments, paints, and cookware. PFAS have also been widely used in food-contact materials such as non-stick cooking surfaces and food-contact papers such as pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, baking papers, and other paper wraps. Often PFAS in food contact packaging is meant to prevent the transfer of food grease to other surfaces.
Many studies have documented PFAS in humans. Because they can remain in bodies for 3-5 years or longer and also because they bioaccumulate and biomagnify in food sources, there is great concern around potential health effects. PFAS have been shown to mimic estrogen, affect the synthesis and efficacy of other hormones, and possibly increase the risk of some types of cancer. IPEN's recent work with the Endocrine Society delves more into these potential harms and what is being done about them.
In Arnika's study, PFAS and BFRs were found in the water and fish samples tested by the laboratory of the Department of Food Analysis and Nutrition of the Prague University of Chemistry and Technology. Samples nearer the airport and industrial areas showed higher levels, revealing the toxic legacy of past contamination. Other samples showed levels in the same range as comparable Czech and European sites.