The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) advises to reduce PFAS concentrations in drinking water in parts of the Netherlands in the coming years. This concerns drinking water produced from river water. In a recent study by RIVM, PFAS concentrations exceeded the threshold advised by RIVM in over half of the measurements of this drinking water. For drinking water from groundwater, this was the case for 1 in 10 measurements. These concentrations need to be brought down to ensure people’s PFAS intake from drinking water does not become too high. Tap water is still safe to drink. RIVM is going to research what measures are most effective to reduce the total exposure to PFAS in the Netherlands.
PFAS concentration in drinking water
RIVM advises that people’s intake of PFAS from drinking water should not exceed a threshold of 20% of the health-based guidance value, given that people may take in the remaining 80% from other sources. At present, PFAS concentrations exceed 20% of the health-based guidance value in over half of the measurements of drinking water from river water. In the west of the Netherlands, drinking water is mainly produced from river water. The threshold is also exceeded in 1 in 10 measurements of drinking water from groundwater, which is the main source of drinking water in the other regions of the Netherlands.
Total PFAS intake needs to be reduced
The total quantity of PFAS that people in the Netherlands take in from drinking water alone is below the health-based guidance value. Therefore, RIVM still considers tap water safe to drink. However, people’s PFAS intake from drinking water and food combined is too high. Furthermore, people in the Netherlands also take in PFAS through the air they breathe and from consumer products. Previous research by RIVM found that PFAS concentrations in Dutch rivers are relatively high. PFAS levels are relatively high in certain locations, such as around the Chemours chemical plant in Dordrecht, and in self-caught seafood (fish, shellfish and edible sea plants) in the Western Scheldt. Scientific research shows that PFAS is more harmful to health than was previously thought. That is why it is important that people’s total intake of PFAS is brought down.
RIVM conducts research in PFAS programme
PFAS are omnipresent, very resistant to biodegradation and difficult to remove from water and the environment. This means they will stay in our living environment for a long time to come. In the coming years, RIVM is going to research what measures are most effective to reduce the total exposure to PFAS in the Netherlands. But that requires first having up-to-date information about PFAS exposure. Only then can we research what measures are most cost-effective. In addition, long-term monitoring of PFAS exposure will allow us to measure the effects of the measures taken.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made substances. They do not occur in food or drinking water naturally. PFAS have entered our living environment through the emissions of factories and the use of products containing these substances, such as firefighting foams. As a result, PFAS are now also present in our food and drinking water.
People in the Netherlands ingest more PFAS from food and drinking water than the health-based guidance value, which denotes the maximum quantity of a particular substance a person may take in without this being harmful to their health. This value is used in risk assessments and does not have legal status.
New scientific research shows that PFAS are more harmful to health than was previously thought. When people regularly take in small quantities of PFAS over a long period, this can be harmful to their immune system. The immune system protects the body against diseases. When its functioning is impaired, people may be more prone to disease and fall ill more often. Whether that actually happens is hard to predict.
It is important to reduce the amount of PFAS entering our living environment. On behalf of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, RIVM is working on a European proposal to restrict the use and production of PFAS together with partner organisations from other member states.