Groundwater pollution: Swedish armed forces appeal to PFAS verdict

The Swedish Air Force is found guilty of PFAS pollution of ground water. Photo: Military Material, Pixabay.

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The Swedish Armed Forces have announced that they are appealing to the PFAS verdict at the Swedish Supreme Court. According to a judgement in April the Swedish armed forces are responsible for PFAS pollution of groundwater and must pay damages to Uppsala Water. The damages consist of compensation for the costs of PFAS treatment and legal costs.

The chemicals found in the groundwater are supposed to be coming from firefighting foam. According to the Swedish Armed Forces the Land and Environmental Court of Appeal (MÖD) has started from Uppsala Vatten’s evidence and has not made any proper analysis of the Swedish Armed Forces’ technical evidence. The Swedish Land and Environment Court of Appeals, Mark och Miljööverdomstolen, on 9 April delivered a win for the municipal water company Uppsala Vatten in their lawsuit against Sweden’s armed forces.

Health risks

The so-called ‘forever chemicals’ are often found in cookware, waterproof clothing, personal care products and firefighting foams. European groundwater quality standards were set for the same group of PFAS, certain pharmaceuticals and non-relevant metabolites of pesticides. These compounds can enter the environment and the human body where they may lead to decreased fertility, developmental effects or delays in children, and increased risk of some cancers.

Water sector calls for action

In March EurEau sent a letter to European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, urging the EU to take swift measures against the continued PFAS pollution of our environment. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has flagged PFAS as a serious health risk. EurEau had called on the European Commission to take urgent action and endorse the ‘universal PFAS restriction’ proposal currently under consideration by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). This initiative aligns with the European Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and underscores the urgency of addressing PFAS contamination to protect human health and the environment.

Verdict underlines ‘polluter pays principle’

The ruling in Sweden marks an important step in holding polluters responsible for their actions. Speaking about the case, PärDalhielm, CEO of SvensktVatten, the Swedish association of water and wastewater services, said that “the outcome of this case is important both for Uppsala Water and for the rest of the water sector. Through the judgement, it is now established that it is the polluter who must pay for the treatment costs, not the municipality’s residents.”

Treatment costs

According to the judgement, the Swedish Armed Forces must bear the treatment costs that have arisen to date due to the PFAS contamination, amounting to € 3.5 million. The drinking water company was awarded over 37 million Swedish Krone (SEK) in damages, which it says will help cover some of the costs to treat the water to lower PFAS levels. But PFAS chemicals are difficult to break down and could remain in Uppsala’s drinking water for decades. ”PFAS is called the forever chemical and unfortunately that’s quite true”, Philip McCleaf, a group manager at Uppsala Vatten’s drinking water division told Radio Sweden.

New method to remove PFAS

The verdict comes as water boards across Europe welcomed earlier this Spring a revolutionary method to remove and neutralize PFAS. Researchers at the Dutch water technology institute Wetsus in Leeuwarden appear to have become the first team to achieve a promising method to remove and neutralize most per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — the extremely persistent man-made chemicals used in thousands of products such as non-stick pans, packing materials for food, paints, and biocides, which pose a risk to human health and the environment.

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