Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals. Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Most UK waste still ends up in landfill, and this includes PFAS-containing products. Studies have shown that the liquid coming from landfills (known as leachate) often contain non-polymer PFAS chemicals. In the USA the total quantities were estimated at 563-638 kg in 2013. To properly break down PFAS chemicals high temperature (1000oC or more) incineration is recommended. Incineration of municipal waste does not necessarily reach these temperatures (min temp. required is 850oC), and the incomplete breakdown could release non-polymer PFAS.Wash and wear of clothing that contains PFAS-based stain-resistant or water repellent finishes release PFAS to the environment. Coatings are thought to lose effectiveness after 20-30 washes. This can include non-polymer PFAS, remnant from production or as a break-down product of side-chain polymers (Lassen et al. 2015). The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes releases PFAS into the environment, both by air and water emissions. PFAS are very hard to remove during water treatment. Industrial emissions are estimated to be the biggest source of these chemicals to the environment.

PFAS: A Global Contamination Crisis

PFAS contamination knows no bounds. PFAS used in our everyday products can leak into our environment during production, use and disposal, and now contaminate our blood[i], water[ii], air[iii] and food[iv]. Once in the environment, these ‘forever chemicals’ can leach into soil[v], infiltrate groundwater[vi], and accumulate in wildlife[vii], setting the stage for far-reaching ecological consequences. And it’s not just wildlife who are at risk, numerous studies link PFAS exposure to adverse health effects in humans such as reproductive issues[viii], immune dysfunction, and cancer[ix].

Impacts on global wildlife

PFAS present a substantial health risk to wildlife. We know that PFAS can harm the immune system, kidney function and liver function of bottlenose dolphins, as well as the immune system of sea otters[x]. Studies have also suggested PFAS could be building up in remote Arctic polar bears to levels capable of causing neurological damage, interfering with their hormonal systems and disrupting reproduction[xi]. The image below demonstrates the wide ranging health impacts PFAS exposure can have on both people and wildlife[xii]. For species already at risk, this comes on top of additional threats such as pollution, habitat destruction, and exploitation.

Figure 1: The above image is taken from David Q. Andrews et al paper titled “Discussion. Has the human population become a sentinel for the adverse effects of PFAS contamination on wildlife health and endangered species?”, 2023, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 901, 165939, ISSN 0048-9697,

The Environmental Working Group have developed a map demonstrating the number of wildlife species found to be contaminated with PFAS globally. The map shows that PFAS have been found in more than 600 species of wildlife around the world including, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammal’s, some of which are classified as endangered.

Sadly, this may only be scratching the surface of true PFAS contamination in wildlife as only a limited number of species have so far been studied or tested. As research in this area continues to grow, there may be more entries to follow.

Figure 2: The Environment working groups map of wildlife impacted from PFAS contamination, available online here: Interactive map: PFAS contamination in wildlife ( © Mapbox, © OpenStreetMap and Improve this map.

PFAS pollution hotspots

Recently, we have seen an alarming amount of PFAS ‘hotspots’ identified all over the globe by experts. A recent study delivered by the Le Monde French newspaper and its 17 newsroom partners as part of the Forever Pollution Project[xiii], detected 23,000 sites across Europe where PFAS contamination had been detected and over 2000 of these were considered hotspots. The hotspots were defined as areas with concentrations of PFAS detected at a level that experts consider hazardous for health (in this case 100 ng/L).

Worryingly, a lot of the contamination sites identified in this study were not always near industrial sites that handle or manufacture PFAS, demonstrating the many other potential routes for PFAS pollution to occur, e.g. via wastewater streams[xiv] and pesticides[xv], as well as the mobility and persistence of PFAS once in the environment.

Current costs to remove PFAS contamination from the environment are exorbitant. In the EU, estimates of clean-up costs are projected to soar into tens of billions of Euros [xiii]. The only practical way forward is therefore to stop PFAS emissions at source and transition towards a PFAS-free economy.

Figure 3: Explore the map of Europe’s PFAS contamination, available via ‘The Forever pollution’ website: ‘Forever pollution’: Explore the map of Europe’s PFAS contamination ( © MapTiler © OpenStreetMap contributors

Pesticides: The hidden path of PFAS contamination

A growing global source of PFAS contamination in the environment is through pesticides. Much of our agriculture today is intensive and relies heavily on manufactured chemicals (insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) to control pest species and to increase crop yield. Unfortunately, PFAS containing pesticides are widely used and are on the rise. A recent report by PAN Europe and Generation Futures found that French sales of PFAS containing pesticides had risen threefold, from 700 tonnes in 2008 to 2,332 tonnes in 2021[xvi].

PFAS are intentionally added to pesticides to enhance their effectiveness. The addition of PFAS means the pesticide is essentially more stable, prolonging the efficacy and reducing the need to spray crops more frequently[xv]. However, the term ‘stability’ simply refers to their extended persistence in the environment.

Industrial pesticides demonstrate a direct and widespread source of PFAS contamination for both crops and the environment. Given the known persistence of these ‘forever chemicals’, their continued addition to the environment means levels will continue to build overtime, threatening the health of both people and wildlife for generations.


A PFAS-free economy

The global contamination of PFAS presents a multifaceted challenge with far-reaching implications for human health and the environment. Urgent and concerted efforts are needed to mitigate PFAS pollution.

That is why we are calling on the UK government to transition towards a PFAS-free economy. We are calling for a group-based approach to PFAS restrictions, tackling PFAS pollution at source, and UK support for global action on PFAS through the Stockholm Convention. Alongside other environmental NGOs, we have set out a 7-step plan for achieving a PFAS-free economy in the UK. Find out more:



[i] Jeremy P. Koelmel, Elizabeth Z. Lin, Emily Parry, Paul Stelben, Emma E. Rennie, Krystal J. Godri Pollitt, Novel perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) discovered in whole blood using automated non-targeted analysis of dried blood spots, 2023, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 883, 163579, ISSN 0048-9697,

[ii] Termeh Teymoorian, Gabriel Munoz, Sung Vo Duy, Jinxia Liu, and Sébastien Sauvé, Tracking PFAS in Drinking Water: A Review of Analytical Methods and Worldwide Occurrence Trends in Tap Water and Bottled Water, 2023, ACS ES&T Water3 (2), 246-261. DOI: 10.1021/acsestwater.2c00387

[iii] Barber J.L, Berger U, Chaemfa C, Huber, S Jahnke A, Temme C and Jones K,C. Analysis of per and polyfluorinated alykyl substances in air sample from Northwest Europe. 2007. Journal of environmental monitoring, 9 (6). Pp. 530-541.

[iv] Elena Piva, Paolo Fais, Pasquale Ioime, Mattia Forcato, Guido Viel, Giovanni Cecchetto, Jennifer P. Pascali, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) presence in food: Comparison among fresh, frozen and ready-to-eat vegetables,2023, Food Chemistry, Volume 410, 135415, ISSN 0308-8146,

[v] Xu, B., Yang, G., Lehmann, A. et al. Effects of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on soil structure and function. Soil Ecol. Lett. 5, 108–117 (2023).

[vi] Yutao Chen, Hekai Zhang, Yalan Liu, John A. Bowden, Thabet M. Tolaymat, Timothy G. Townsend, Helena M. Solo-Gabriele, Evaluation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in leachate, gas condensate, stormwater and groundwater at landfills, 2023, Chemosphere, Volume 318, 137903, ISSN 0045-6535,

[vii] Bushra Khan, Robert M. Burgess, and Mark G. Cantwell. Occurrence and Bioaccumulation Patterns of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in the Marine Environment. 2023. ACS EST Water. 3, 5, 1243-1259.

[viii] Bonato M, Corrà F, Bellio M, Guidolin L, Tallandini L, Irato P, Santovito G. PFAS Environmental Pollution and Antioxidant Responses: An Overview of the Impact on Human Field. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17(21):8020.

[ix] Maaike van Gerwen, Elena Colicino, Haibin Guan, Georgia Dolios, Girish N. Nadkarni, Roel C.H. Vermeulen et al. 2023. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure and thyroid cancer risk. 97, 104831. DOI:

[x] Chemtrust. PFAS the ‘Forever Chemicals’ invisible threats from persistent chemicals. 2019.

[xi] Kathrine Eggers Pedersen, Robert J. Letcher, Christian Sonne, Rune Dietz, Bjarne Styrishave, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) – New endocrine disruptors in polar bears (Ursus maritimus)?, Environment International, 2016, 96, Pages 180-189,ISSN 0160-4120,

[xii] David Q. Andrews, Tasha Stoiber, Alexis M. Temkin, Olga V. Naidenko,Discussion. Has the human population become a sentinel for the adverse effects of PFAS contamination on wildlife health and endangered species?, 2023, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 901, 165939, ISSN 0048-9697,

[xiii] The Forever Pollution Project, journalists tracking PFAS across Europe, 2023 available online:

[xiv] Swadhina Priyadarshini Lenka, Melanie Kah, Lokesh P. Padhye, A review of the occurrence, transformation, and removal of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in wastewater treatment plants, 2021, Water Research, 199, 117187, ISSN 0043-1354,

[xv] PAN Europe et al. Toxic Harvest : The rise of forever pesticides in fruit and vegetables in Europe. 2024. Available:

[xvi] PAN Europe and Future Generations, Europe’s Toxic Harvest: unmasking PFAS pesticides authorised in Europe. 2023, available online at:







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