More locations in Denmark considered health risk due to chemical pollution

At least 52 places in Denmark are polluted with PFAS chemicals to the extent they can be considered a possible or certain health risk.

Danish authorities say up to 52 locations in the country could constitute a health risk due to PFAS pollution.
Danish authorities say up to 52 locations in the country could constitute a health risk due to PFAS pollution. File photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

The Danish Environmental Agency (Miljøstyrelsen) released the number of polluted locations following consultation with local municipalities.

While 25 locations had already been reported to authorities as potential health risks, that number has now more than doubled according to information released by the authority.

Pollution at the 52 sites comes from fire service training. The chemicals in question are found in the foam used by emergency services to put out fires.

The pollution can represent a health risk to humans if ingested via cattle, gardens with edible plants, leisure fishing or bathing in contaminated areas, the Environmental Agency said.

At 35 of the 52 locations, analysis of the suspected pollution is underway or further investigation has been ordered, it said. No details have been revealed as to investigations at the remaining locations but the agency is to follow up on the issue with local authorities, it said.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are large group of synthetic chemicals used in various products since the early 1950s. Their past uses include foam in fire extinguishers, food packaging and in textiles, carpets and paints.

PFAS and the related PFOS persists in the environment and have been detected in humans and wildlife, giving rise to with health concerns.

“(PFAS) can be detected in low concentrations in the blood in populations all over the world. PFAS is unwanted in the environment and its impact on health is a cause for concern,” the Danish Environmental Agency said.

READ ALSO: Pollutant chemical PFOS found in beef from Danish farm

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How will Denmark’s health reform change country’s health services?

Junior doctors will spend more time in general practice during their training and 25 new local hospitals will be opened under a new health sector reform announced on Friday.

How will Denmark's health reform change country’s health services?

An agreement for the reform was presented by the government on Friday with the backing of a parliamentary majority.

The deal had been delayed with the Covid-19 crisis among the obstacles which drew out its completion.

It provides for 6.8 billion kroner of spending on the Danish health service over the next eight years, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke told media on Friday.

“We have an agreement for a health reform that will support local health services. Many parties are with us. (The deal) could not have broader support,” he said.

Parties on both sides of Denmark’s political aisle are in agreement over the deal, with Martin Geertsen, health spokesperson with the opposition Liberal (Venstre) party, calling it “a good little deal”.

“Does this agreement solve all the challenges faced by the Danish health service going forward? No. Certainly not. It’s a good little deal. It’s a step in the right direction,” Geertsen said.

The health spokesperson with the left-wing party Red Green Alliance, Peder Hvelplund, likewise characterised the reform as a small but positive step that does not solve all of the problems within the health system currently.

In an earlier version of the deal, proposed by the governing Social Democrats, up to 20 local hospitals – around the size of extended, large health centres – were proposed. The location of the centres that will be opened or built under the reform is not clear at the current time.

The new, local centres could potentially be located in former hospital premises.

The government also proposed a form of compulsory service which junior doctors would have to complete as part of their training, involving working for an experience GP. This will be undertaken as part of doctors’ studies under the terms of the reform.

This means that young doctors will spend an extra six months working at GP surgeries and spend less time at hospitals.

Earlier health proposals by the government related to additional restrictions on tobacco and alcohol sales do not form part of the agreement announced on Friday.

Negotiations over those proposals will take place separately, Heunicke said.

“Next week we will open negotiations on the remaining elements relating to prevention (of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption). It was the right thing to do to split things up because we got this broadly-supported agreement,” he said.