News and Insights
24 March 2022
Testing by Jersey Water shows a class of poisonous chemicals called PFAS and PFOS are running through the island’s water.
What is PFOS?
PFOS: You might recognise the acronym, short for Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, it is part of a group of chemicals known as perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS).
In a nutshell, it’s a man-made chemical which has been used in commercial products since the 1940s. The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, known as ‘3M’, were pioneers in the manufacturing of these chemicals, which were used in non-stick, stain-resistant & waterproof products.
PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because once released into the environment, they do not break down.
The chemicals are designed to resist water, heat and oil. And it is for this reason, that they were esteemed by scientists and manufacturers and why PFOS were used in the production of items such as fire-fighting foams, non-stick pans, textiles, and electronics.
Unfortunately, as a direct result of their use in these products these toxic chemicals have accumulated and persist within the soil, our water supply, and ultimately have found their way into our bodies. As they are not easily broken down by natural processes, such as sunlight, PFOS simply doesn’t wash away.
The reality of their durability is that the chemicals build up in our bodies and can be found in our blood, as our bodies are incapable of breaking it down and continued exposure to high levels of PFOS has been linked to life threatening illnesses. A widespread study was conducted across Europe linking PFAS exposure to serious diseases such as kidney cancer, testicular cancer, breast cancer and thyroid disease to name a few.
There have been numerous PFOS lawsuits in the US and further across the globe. Last year, a successful $212m class action was taken against the Australian Government for allowing these toxic chemicals used in fire-fighting foams to escape into the groundwater in towns near the airbases where it was used.
PFOS in Jersey
Before anyone understood the toxic significance of PFOS, it was used in the fire-fighting foam used for training at Jersey Airport during the 1990’s. As a result, water supplies in surrounding locations such as St Ouen’s bay, the Plume area and St. Peter have been contaminated.
In 2018, PFOS was identified in the St. Peter groundwater north of the airport- specifically in boreholes supplying private water supplies. In the States’ November 2020 PFAS and water quality update report, the Minister for the Environment noted that:
“Further testing has shown that background trace levels exist across the Island… and testing has further identified that contamination of PFOS and PFOA was slightly raised to the north and south of the airport.”
According to a Jersey Government Report published in 2019, a summary of the levels of PFOS and PFOA recorded from ground water, south of Jersey airport, have found PFOS at a highest level of 0.89 µg/l, nearly twice the recommended ‘safe level’ as per the European Directive.
The States of Jersey are offering blood tests for affected people.
The eligibility criteria for a blood test:
- Did you live in the “historical Plume area” between 1991 and 2006 for more than one year, or worked there for more than two years?
- Did you regularly drink borehole water whilst there?
- Have health concerns?
Residents living in these areas will understandably be distressed by these findings and may feel reluctant to have a blood test to determine if they have been affected.
Concerned islanders who meet the above eligibility criteria, are invited by the Government of Jersey to have a blood test to detect the chemical, free of charge. A referral from your GP is required and needs to be submitted by 6th April 2022.
What are your legal rights?
To date there have not been any reported claims in Jersey by those who have suffered serious illness because of PFOS, but there is scope for individuals or a group of affected parties to make a claim against the States of Jersey. To do so, credible independent expert medical advice would be needed as well as paying careful attention to the potential prescription periods (3 years from the date of knowledge of negligence or 10 years from the date of breach of contract).