Netherlands issues warning over PFAs in seawater

The Dutch public health institute RIVM has said that children and pets should not swallow foam at the seaside, following concerns over high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the spume.

PFAs have been widely used for decades in products that have non-stick and waterproof properties, with considerable efficacy, but in high doses PFAs, known as ‘forever chemicals’, have been linked to serious health concerns including cancer and fertility issues.

The RIVM measured concentrations of PFAs in the seawater at Zeeland, north and South Holland in April and August this year.

It found that, although not as marked as the “very high concentrations” recently discovered buy the Flemish Institute for Technological Research in one sample from the Belgian resort of Knokke, sea foam at popular Dutch resorts including Egmond, Katwijk, Scheveningen, Texel and Zandvoort had comparable levels of PFAS to Belgium.

The RIVM said in a statement that it was unclear what the presence of the chemicals in foam meant “for the health of … swimmers, surfers, or people walking on the beach” due to a lack of data on exposure and acceptable risk levels.

However, official advice has been clearer. “It is sensible to have a shower after swimming, wash your hands before eating, and not to let children and pets swallow any sea foam,” said the Dutch minister of water management, Mark Harbers.

“The RIVM has previously established that people in the Netherlands are already too exposed to PFAS. A large amount comes from food and drinking water. Every route through which people ingest more PFAS is undesirable, including via sea foam.”

He said no measures were needed regarding sea swimming since levels in the water were “a lot lower”. 

According to the Dutch study, which measured foam where available, “just as much if not more PFAs occur in Dutch sea foam as have been measured in Flemish sea foam”.