Researchers identify harmful chemical hotspots in Switzerland

Researchers identify harmful chemical hotspots in Switzerland

Researchers have found that a number of locations across Switzerland are hotspots for so-called “forever chemicals”. These chemicals are known for not breaking down in the environment and building up in the human body, while some are also toxic to humans and wildlife. 

Highest concentration of forever-chemicals found in Valais

The research was carried out by German-speaking media outlets that took part in the "Forever Pollution Project.” The study specifically focused on finding out the quantity of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in different Swiss cantons and cities. The research found 134 forever-chemical hotspots across the whole of Switzerland, with the highest concentration found in the Goms Valley in Canton Valais.

There is some dispute about where these harmful chemicals may have originated from. Several Swiss newspapers attribute the findings to the use of ski wax at several ski resorts in the region, but the government seems to disagree.

Local officials instead say that the pollution resulted from the use of fire-fighting foam at local training sites. PFAS chemicals are valued for having non-stick properties, making them popular ingredients in consumer products, firefighting foams, waste and industrial processes. Because of these processes, however, it is easy for the chemical deposits to make their way into soil, sediments and water.

Forever-chemicals detected in Swiss drinking water

According to experts, a concentration of 100 nanograms of PFAS per litre of drinking water is considered problematic for human health. At each of the 134 identified chemical hotspots in Switzerland, measurements were higher than 100 nanograms, meaning the drinking water in those areas could be harmful to human health. 

Several forever-chemicals have been scientifically linked to a number of health conditions such as kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, and thyroid disease. While not all of the chemicals are toxic to humans and wildlife, there are several that are known to cause certain diseases. 

Switzerland is not alone in this problem. The Forever Pollution Project assessed data from several countries across Europe and found that Belgium has the highest levels of forever-chemical pollution around 3M’s PFAS manufacturing site in Zwijndrecht. An airport in the Netherlands as well as several in Germany also recorded high levels of the chemicals as they are often used in firefighting foams used after accidents. 

To see where the rest of the chemical hotspots are in Switzerland, check out this map provided by SRF.

Emily Proctor


Emily Proctor

Emily grew up in the UK before moving abroad to study International Relations and Chinese. She then obtained a Master's degree in International Security and gained an interest in journalism....

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