Piecing together the PFAS puzzle

Useful panel discussion during AIWW 2023

PFAS: you hear about them more and more often. The presence of PFAS in the environment, and certainly also in drinking water sources, elicits a great deal of worry among all kinds of people, and has led to lots of research and development by scientists and companies. This is definitely the case since the publication of the report of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2020, which showed that PFAS are far more toxic than had previously been assumed. The problem has been approached from all angles, but how does this lead to a coherent approach for the solution?

Diverse panel

This was the central question in the panel discussion and workshop about PFAS during the Amsterdam International Water Week (AIWW), which took place in early November, and in which I participated upon the invitation of Tom Freyberg of the Aquatech Innovation Forum. I was struck by how diverse the backgrounds were of the different experts who accompanied me on the panel. Wayne Burne of Burnt Island Ventures, a leading investor for innovative entrepreneurs in the water world, was there. Sonora Hill represented Imagine H2O, a non-profit organisation that makes it possible for people to develop innovation and apply it in solving global water challenges. The entrepreneurs Julie Bliss Mullen and Kobe Nagar from 374Water, an American social impact company, talked about new technical developments, and how these could find their way to practice. And I, together with Mohamed Ateia Ibrahim, researcher at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had the opportunity to talk about the current status of research into PFAS.

Look at the entire water cycle

At KWR we do lots of research into the impact, removal and degradation of PFAS. Among the questions raised by Tom Freyberg was whether PFAS are more important with regard to drinking water or to wastewater. I answered that you need to look at PFAS in the entire water cycle, because otherwise you run the risk of not solving the problem, but simply shifting it around. It is also very important to work together with all stakeholders: researchers, entrepreneurs as well as public authorities are all responsible for this urgent and also complex dossier. Technical solutions on their own are not enough, because as long as companies and consumers continue producing and using PFAS, we would, as it were, be mopping up with the tap running.


Mohamed and I had many useful discussions on questions concerning PFAS with those in attendance. It was quite evident that everyone was very aware that the problem needed to be tackled in depth, and that the solutions called for very intensive work. The research and the technical developments make me feel optimistic. It should be possible before long to come up with an effective approach, without shifting the problem to another environmental compartment. My optimism was echoed by other panel members, and in the ensuing workshop discussions with people from different backgrounds. Bolstered by the solidarity, which I experienced during the AIWW, where like-minded spirits can share knowledge and experience on all sorts of water issues, I took this experience home with me. If we succeed in combining our strengths over the entire breadth of the working field – research, technique, business, society and politics – we will inevitably find the key to successfully tackling the PFAS problem.