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ENDS Report and Watershed Investigations launch film

The Mersey’s dark waters: Scale of river’s contamination with toxic PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ revealed in ENDS Report and Watershed Investigations' new film.

ENDS Report and Watershed Investigations launch film
Jamie Carpenter: "These findings should be a wake-up call for the government."

ENDS Report and Watershed Investigations have launched their new film, ‘TOXIC: Britain’s forever polluted rivers and seas’, with findings that the load of toxic so-called “forever chemicals” flowing through the River Mersey is among the highest recorded globally.

PFAS are a group of thousands of chemicals that are causing growing concern. They were invented by the US company DuPont in the 1940’s and are resistant to water, heat and oil. They are widely used in everyday household goods, such as cookware, clothing and cosmetics, added the publisher.

Their indestructible qualities have given them the nickname ‘forever chemicals’, because they last for thousands of years, building up in the environment and our bodies, the publisher continued.

The World Health Organisation has labelled one PFAS compound, called PFOA, a category one carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer in humans. Another, called PFOS, is categorised as possibly carcinogenic.

In ENDS Report’s and Watershed Investigations' film, Liverpool John Moores University pollution expert Dr Patrick Byrne outlines findings from pioneering research into the forever chemical load of the River Mersey – a way of measuring the amount of PFAS that is flowing through the river basin out into the Irish Sea.

Byrne’s research, presented in the documentary, has found that River Mersey is carrying one of the largest loads of PFAS in the world, when the size of the river basin is taken into account.

According to the research, the Mersey is transporting the second highest load of known carcinogen PFOA recorded in the world – only the Tokyo Bay river basin in Japan carries more PFOA per square kilometre of land.

The research also found that the Mersey is transporting the third highest amount of PFOS, a likely carcinogen, recorded globally – behind only the Tokyo Bay river basin and the Cape Fear watershed in the United States.

According to the findings, treated and untreated sewage from wastewater plants are responsible for 47% of the total load of the banned toxic chemical PFOS – and an even higher load of PFOA.

ENDS Report editor Jamie Carpenter said: "These findings should be a wake-up call for the government. Following Brexit a chasm has opened up on the regulation of toxic chemicals that pose a serious threat to humans and wildlife. While the EU moves ahead with plans for a wide-ranging restriction on PFAS, the UK government is pursuing a less ambitious proposal.

“The revelations in our film add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that a much stronger regulatory approach is urgently needed in order to prevent the UK’s precious rivers, like the Mersey, from being locked into a forever polluted future.”

Rachel Salvidge, co-founder, Watershed Investigations, said: "At Watershed, we've been investigating PFAS pollution in the UK for some time but it's still shocking to discover such high loads of two banned toxic carcinogens in the Mersey.

“There are upwards of 10,000 PFAS and just three are regulated, there's a mountain to climb in terms of keeping these substances in check and all the while they are building up in the environment and in our bodies."

Leana Hosea, co-founder Watershed Investigations, added: "Sewage effluent is a major source of PFAS pollution in rivers, yet the fact that there's no regulation to prevent it beggars belief.

“PFAS chemicals cycle through the hydrosphere and are then transported globally. They have been found in rain in even the most remote places, such as on the Tibetan Plateau, in plants, livestock, fish, whales, polar bears, and of course humans. Scientists say we’ve already exceeded the planetary boundary for PFAS, and the UK is contributing to this toxic forever pollution."

PFAS pollution was the focus of a 2019 Hollywood movie starring Mark Ruffalo. Dark Waters told the story of US attorney Robert Bilott, whose battle to get justice for those harmed by ‘forever chemical’ PFOA led to multi-million dollar legal payouts and the shocking revelation that every American has the substance in their blood.

‘TOXIC: Britain’s forever polluted rivers and seas’ is available to watch here.

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