Dublin Airport operator examining potential impact of ‘forever chemicals’

PFAS break down very slowly, if at all, in the environment and can be transferred by streams and groundwater

The operator of Dublin Airport has said it is examining the potential impact of dangerous legacy chemicals and engaging with environmental regulators on what it has termed an “emerging issue”.

The issue relates to the use of so-called forever chemicals or PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkylated substances).

It is a global problem relating to a wide variety of consumer products including, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stain-resistant or waterproofing agents, upholstery and carpets and non-stick coatings.

However, PFAS have also been widely used in fire-fighting foams designed to extinguish fuel fires. While DAA has not confirmed they have been used at the airport, it introduced a PFAS-free alternative foam in 2013.


“DAA is examining the potential impact of PFAS at Dublin Airport and is engaging with the relevant environmental regulators to ensure best practice in managing this emerging issue,” a DAA spokesman said.

It is aware, the spokesman said, of “increasing reports” relating to the potential pollutant of interest within the family of PFAS chemicals.

Members of the Santry Forum committee were due to meet DAA’s head of sustainability, seeking information on its legacy use with specific concerns about whether they may have entered the Santry river, which is due to be restored as a greenway.

Committee member Patrick Fagan, who also sits on Dublin Airport’s Environmental Working Group, said more historic issues relating to their use had to be addressed, specifically what level of testing is being undertaken on airport grounds. The group was formed in 2004 to consult with surrounding communities on a variety of topics including noise and air quality monitoring.

According to minutes from its meeting in November 2021, Mr Fagan raised the issue of foam use, noting it presented a potentially “big problem”.

In a subsequent letter to former DAA chief executive Dalton Philips, Mr Fagan said run-off from the watercourses on the airfield flow into the Santry river. “This gives me cause to be greatly concerned for health reasons.”

DAA did not comment on concerns relating to potential river pollution.

The issue of historic PFAS use in fire-fighting foams extends far beyond Dublin Airport.

In 2021, the EPA commissioned a study to investigate the extent and found approximately 18,000 litres of PFAS foams were being held by those fire services across the country that responded. It noted that “uncontained release of these foams during training and incidents was highlighted as a significant risk”.

According to the EPA, PFAS break down very slowly, if at all, in the environment. They can leak into streams, rivers and groundwater and can end up in drinking water. Once consumed, they can increase in concentration in the body and can affect the hormonal, immune and reproductive systems, as well as being possibly carcinogenic.

“The more they are studied, the more negative impacts are discovered,” it said in a report.

An Australian assessment of a concrete firefighting training area in use until 2010 found significant PFAS which were likely to be a source of long-term release for several decades.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times