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Potentially dangerous ‘forever chemicals’ found at sites at Dublin Airport

The substances, which can be linked to health issues including cancers, were detected during a risk assessment of ground water, surface water and soil sampling

A two-year investigation at Dublin Airport has confirmed the presence of potentially dangerous “forever chemicals” at a number of sample sites across its campus.

The chemicals, often linked to health issues including cancers, were detected during a comprehensive risk assessment of ground water, surface water and soil sampling.

PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkylated substances) have become a legacy problem globally, including in airports where firefighting foam containing the chemicals was once used.

The findings of a 28-month monitoring programme undertaken between 2021 and 2023 will be published on Wednesday.


DAA believes the report, conducted by environmental consultancy Fehily Timoney, might help improve knowledge around the broader problem believed to affect dozens of individual sites across the country.

“As one of the first organisations in Ireland actively working to address PFAS, DAA hopes that the comprehensive data being made public today enhances the understanding of the potential scale of this issue,” it said.

The highest groundwater concentrations were detected at the site of the airport’s former fire-fighting training ground, where PFAS foam had been used before being replaced in 2013. Traces were first detected there in 2016.

Further testing at the airport, and at more surrounding sites, will now be established to “develop an external risk profile” for surface and groundwater. Ongoing engagement with Fingal County Council and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assist “in forming the scope” of future action was also recommended.

Separately, historic and unregulated waste disposed at Castlemoate House to the northeast of the airport has been linked to PFAS detection there.

Source: DAA

Surface water monitoring was also carried out at 12 off-campus locations within 4km of the airport, although PFAS levels were found to be significantly lower there than onsite. The next phase of its programme will include “a more extensive period of monitoring” outside the campus, DAA said.

“Based on the findings of this report, it is recommended to quantify the risk from PFAS present in soil, concrete, groundwater and surface water at the airport and further investigations should be carried out having regard to the process outlined in the EPA’s Guidance on the Management of Contaminated Land and Groundwater at EPA Licensed Sites,” the consultants said.

Global PFAS contamination sites go far beyond airports and include landfills, manufacturing sites, pharmaceutical plants and even in more remote areas.

DAA has cited an investigation run by Le Monde and the Forever Pollution Project which has identified about 90 sites in Ireland either contaminated or suspected of being contaminated, and 44,500 globally.

First produced in the 1940s, PFAS are used in a wide variety of products from frying pans to fire-fighting foam, and clothing. They do not break down easily and have been linked to human health issues, including cancers and infertility.

Last November, dozens of investment firms, representing trillions of dollars in assets, wrote to the world’s biggest chemical companies to demand their phasing out, as well as transparency around production.

Although some groups of PFAS are already subject to controls, the EU last year began considering a wider ban in what could become its most extensive piece of regulation of the chemical industry.

In the last quarter century, almost 10,000 legal actions have been taken alleging the chemicals have caused harm.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times