TOXIC mixtures of chemicals, including those deemed 'forever chemicals,' are being found in Cornwall's rivers, according to an analysis from The Rivers Trust.

Environment Agency data was used by the Wildlife and Countryside Link and the Rivers Trust to find the number of chemical compounds present in water in Cornwall's rivers, with a number being found to have multiple harmful mixtures present. 

According to the analysis, the River Cober in West Cornwall is one of the worst affected, with around five different harmful chemical mixtures present in its waters.

Falmouth Packet: Pollution in a stream at Tregoniggie WoodlandPollution in a stream at Tregoniggie Woodland (Image: Christine Scarlet)

Chemicals found in the River Cober analysis include: Ibuprofen, Perfluoro Octanoic Acid, 2,4-D / 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), Perfluorobutane sulfonate, Perfluorohexane sulfonate.

These chemical cocktails are particularly worrying as many have been found to contain PFAS, commonly known as “forever chemicals”.

Per- or poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of thousands of industrial chemicals found in many everyday products. These chemicals pose a serious pollution risk as they can take over 1,000 years to degrade.

Other sites in Cornwall that have multiple harmful chemical mixtures include Restronguet Barton, near Mylor, Carnpessack Borehole, near Coverack, and Carleans Gwithian, near Hayle. 

You can use the interactive map below to explore the data and find out which chemicals have been found where.

Commenting on the data, Dr Laurence Couldrick, CEO at Westcountry Rivers Trust, said: "No rivers in England have good chemical status, and research for the #ChemicalCocktail campaign looking at Environment Agency data has led to a call on government to address this in the forthcoming Chemicals Strategy.

"You can add your name to the call for regular monitoring for chemical cocktails in rivers, and new legal protections against dangerous chemical cocktails, including assessments of potential hazardous chemical mixture impacts before any new chemical is allowed on the market. 


"This research has shown there are issues across our region in rivers, lakes and groundwater but it is in Cornwall at Loe Pool Bar on the River Cober where all the chemical cocktails of concern have been found, along with nine forever chemicals.

"Because of the nature of forever chemicals, they do not degrade so we do need to stop the flow of those pollutants.

"All facets of society, including industry, agriculture, medicines, and consumer products are polluting our water but there’s so much we can do, in terms of how we choose to live as a society and individually."

Falmouth Packet: More pollution in the stream at TregoniggieMore pollution in the stream at Tregoniggie (Image: Supplied)

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: "Since the 2000s, the government has increased monitoring and either banned or highly restricted a number of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, both domestically and internationally.

"We are working with government to assess the levels of PFAS occurring in the environment, their sources and potential risks to inform future policy and regulatory approaches. Following steps in their Plan for Water to ban the use of PFAS in fire-fighting foams, the government will share details of further actions in the upcoming UK REACH Work Programmes and Chemicals Strategy later this year.

"We encourage anyone who suspects pollution in waterways to call the Environment Agency’s incident hotline: 0800 807060.”


Tom Scott, of the Cornwall Green Party, told The Packet: "We've known for a long time that chemical pollution is a problem for all English rivers, but it's still shocking to see the extent of this here in Cornwall. And the extremely long-lasting effects of some of the chemicals involved makes this particularly worrying.

"We know that these are potentially highly damaging to local ecosystems, and to local businesses that depend on these, such as the oyster fisheries of the Fal.  

"The situation was worsened when the Environment Agency waived wastewater treatment regulations in 2021 following disruption to supplies of chemicals used in treatment in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic. But it goes much deeper than that.

Falmouth Packet: Fish killed because of pollution discharged into the River Axe at KilmingtonFish killed because of pollution discharged into the River Axe at Kilmington (Image: Environment Agency)

"At the root of it is the failure by the privatised water companies to invest in the infrastructure needed to treat sewage effectively, despite paying out billions of pounds in dividends to their shareholders. And they've been allowed to get away with this by a government that will always put the interests of fat cat investors ahead of protecting the natural environment we all depend on. 

"We need to see much larger fines to reflect the damage caused by discharges of untreated sewage, and ultimately the Green Party would like to privately owned water companies taken back into public ownership.

"Privatisation of these natural monopolies has quite clearly failed, and they need to be run for the common good, not for private profit."