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Community / Reassurance offered over levels of chemicals found in local water samples

A single water droplet creating ripples on a smooth water surface.

SCOTTISH Water says customers should not be concerned about the level of what some call “forever” chemicals in some water samples in Shetland.

A spokesperson for the utility said the standard set by regulators has been met in all samples.

It comes after The Ferret reported that per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were recorded in 349 of the 631 samples taken by Scottish Water at drinking water sources around the country last year.

This was undertaken as part of a new annual survey for the chemicals.

The tests, for 20 of the PFAS of highest concern, were carried out as water left treatment works and entered pipes.

Crucially from a local perspective the highest combined levels of PFAS were found in Fair Isle, from samples taken in November and December.

The sum of PFAS in Fair Isle’s November sample was 23.1 ng/l (nanograms per litre).

This sample result from Fair Isle equates to 23 per cent of the regulatory safety standard. The next area on the list was Benbecula at 9.4 ng/l.

Lerwick’s Sandy Loch was also high up the list with 4.9 ng/l.

The threshold when emergency action needs to be taken is 100ng/l.

Fair Isle resident Eileen Thomson said it was concerning to see that the island’s water had the highest volume of chemicals, adding that she would “definitely want to know more about why and how they got into our water”.

When asked why Fair Isle was so high compared to the rest of the samples a spokesperson for Scottish Water said at this stage they could not definitively say.

They said the focus is on identifying potential sources and seeking to ensure they are managed or controlled as far as possible.

“Further sampling will also give us more information over time,” the spokesperson said.

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They stressed that the highest sample results are well below the regulatory standard and that the work being done in this area is “precautionary and long-term, rather than something that should cause customers any immediate concern about their drinking water”.

PFAS take their ‘forever’ name from the long time they take to break down.

There are 4,700 different types of PFAS and they are used in a variety of items such as non-stick pans and waterproof clothing.

A report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency said PFASs can be found in a range of places, from drinking water and soil to food packaging and household products.

The Royal Society of Chemistry said exposure to some PFAS have been “linked to a range of serious health conditions” including cancers, thyroid disease and liver damage.

The Scottish Water spokesperson said the organisation was “fully engaged with ongoing work to understand the presence of PFAS in drinking water, including a new regulatory parameter for ‘sum of PFAS’ which was introduced from January 2023″.

“This includes monitoring of both the ‘raw’ water we take from the environment and the final drinking water that we supply for the sum of 20 different PFAS compounds covered by the regulations,” they said.

“None of our sampling results across Scotland have so far come close to the drinking water standard for Sum of PFAS, which is 0.1 micrograms per litre.

“Scotland’s Drinking Water Quality Regulator is monitoring this closely and we have provided the regulator with all data in relation to our sampling.

“Our continuing monitoring, inspection and risk assessment processes are seeking to build understanding of the factors behind higher concentrations, while recognising that these remain low relative to the rigorous standard set by our regulator for the safety of drinking water.”

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