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Alarming Levels of Persistent Chemical (PFAS) Contamination Found in Small Coastal Ecosystems, Urgent Action Needed

New study led by Dr. Tom Topaz from the Ruppin Academic Center and Prof. Benny Chefetz and Noam Gridish from The Hebrew University reveals that small coastal ecosystems known as micro-estuaries are highly contaminated with PFAS. These harmful chemicals, found in everyday items like non-stick cookware and firefighting foams, pose a significant risk to both the environment and human health. The research emphasizes that the pollution in these micro-estuaries comes from multiple sources, like wastewater and industrial activities, in higher concentrations than what is considered safe for recreational activities. Urgent action is needed to prevent further damage to these critical ecosystems and protect the well-being of both nature and people.


[Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel] Dr. Tom Topaz from the Ruppin Academic Center and Prof. Benny Chefetz and Noam Gridish from Hebrew University, along with the Israeli Estuarine Research Center team and in collaboration with the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens has led a new study investigating the occurrence, distribution, and associated risks of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in three micro-estuaries during the dry season. Micro-estuaries, often overlooked but vital ecosystems supporting biodiversity and enhancing human life quality in densely populated areas, play a crucial role in controlling the transfer of pollutants from land to sea.


In a comprehensive analysis of 120 samples, the study revealed alarming concentrations of PFAS in the studied estuaries, indicating a global-scale issue. The total PFAS concentration at these sites was remarkably high, with maximum and median concentrations of 17.4 and 3.4 µg L-1, respectively—significantly exceeding recommended benchmarks for aquatic ecosystems and recreational activities.


Wastewater effluents, notably those originating from industrial zones housing refinery facilities, have been pinpointed as a significant contributor to PFAS contamination, leading to point source pollution. PFAS is prevalent in fire extinguishing foam used in various settings, including airports, refineries, and industrial zones. The research underscores the critical necessity for focused interventions to address the impact of PFAS, particularly in regions where micro-estuaries coincide with industrial activities.


To enhance PFAS identification originating from wastewater, the researchers recommend using carbamazepine as a steady indicator, proving valuable in scenarios of limited dilution by natural riverine water.


Despite similarities in characteristics among the three studied micro-estuaries, such as morphology, precipitation, watershed size, and water volume, the study highlights how changes in water input, connectivity to the sea, and local anthropogenic activities can dramatically alter the occurrence, concentrations, and distribution of PFAS. Micro-estuaries, due to their susceptibility to intensive anthropogenic activity, face high ecological risks from PFAS pollution.


The study emphasizes the urgent need for targeted environmental management strategies to safeguard micro-estuaries from PFAS contamination. This research not only contributes to our understanding of PFAS dynamics in micro-estuaries but also underscores the importance of comprehensive environmental monitoring and regulatory measures to protect these critical ecosystems.


The research paper titled “Exploring PFAS in micro-estuaries: Occurrence, distribution and risks” is now available in Environmental Science and Technology Letters and can be accessed at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.3c00882



Tom Topaz1, Noam Gridish2, Tal Sade1, Hadar Zedaka1, Yair Suari1, Antigoni Konomi3, Georgios Gkotsis3, Eleni Aleiferi3, Maria-Christina Nika3, Nikolaos S. Thomaidis3, Benny Chefetz2



  1. Faculty of Marine Sciences, Ruppin Academic Center, Mikhmoret, Israel.
  2. Department of Soil and Water Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot, Israel.
  3. Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Panepistimioupolis, Zografou, Athens, Greece.





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