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Wild boars found to have alarming levels of 'forever chemicals'

When you hear the term “forever chemicals,” the picturesque image of a wild boar trotting through a lush European national park isn’t exactly what springs to mind, right? But that’s exactly where this tale unfolds, and shockingly so, according to a recent study.

Here’s where the story begins: at The James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and the University of Graz in Austria where researchers like Viktoria Müller have been unraveling the puzzling threads of PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in their respective labs.

Expert eyes on the prize

PFAS, commonly known as “forever chemicals,” have been linked to multiple health issues, including cancer, fertility problems, and liver damage. We usually find these chemicals in everyday household products. This pervasive presence makes them notoriously hard to avoid, and even harder to remove from our environment. Hence, the nickname.

So, when Viktoria Müller and her colleagues, as part of their research, noticed the wild boar in the Bohemian Forest National Park in the Czech Republic with PFAS levels nearly five times higher than the EU’s permissible limit for meat, it was an alarming revelation. Especially since boar meat is regularly consumed by humans, this finding certainly raises a few eyebrows.

Shocking level of PFAS contamination

Müller, who conducted the study as part of her Ph.D. research, expresses concern over the level of contamination in the park’s wild boar. While PFAS is found almost everywhere, finding it above the allowable levels for human consumption, especially in food, is indeed alarming.

To illustrate just how daunting these numbers are, let’s delve into the details. The study involved testing the livers of 30 wild boar for 30 different PFAS. The median amounts discovered were approximately 230μg/kg, which is nearly five times the maximum permitted amount in game offal under EU laws regarding PFAS content in food.

In comparison to another study of wild boar in northeast Germany, these national park dwellers had twice the amount of PFAS. This is not just a statistic; it’s a glaring red flag.

What is causing the high levels of PFAS?

Given these startling findings, it’s imperative to find the root cause. However, figuring out why the levels are higher in the park would require a more extensive study.

The PFAS types found in the park match those usually found at ‘background’ levels, implying that they may be due to atmospheric deposition, such as rain and wind. But the unusually high concentrations suggest a deeper probe is indeed needed.

In the meantime, work by researchers at the Hutton Institute has uncovered PFAS on Austrian ski slopes and in the River Yangzte, primarily due to food packaging and textile treatment.

Background levels of PFAS

These findings open up a whole new dimension to the conversation around toxic “forever chemicals” and their presence in our natural world.

“The level of contamination in the wild boar in the national park is a cause for concern. We are now finding PFAS everywhere, but that it’s at levels above those allowed for human consumption in food – and wild boar meat and offal is consumed by humans – is a worry,” said Müller.

“However, pinpointing why the levels were higher in the park would need a bigger study. The profile of the types of PFAS found in the park matched those generally found at ‘background’ levels, suggesting atmospheric deposition, from rain and wind for example. But the high concentrations we found suggest deeper investigation is needed.”

Wild boar were studied because they provide a good indicator of “background” levels of PFAS in the environment. They eat most things, including plants and small animals. In addition, soil is a significant source of PFAS, which these creatures ingest while foraging for their food.

So, next time you’re enjoying a tranquil walk in a national park or tucking into a piece of game meat, spare a thought for the wild boar. They have become unlikely bio-indicators of harmful chemicals in our environment, chemicals that might just stick around “forever.”

The study is published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.


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