Are surfers exposed to chemical contamination in the water?


For several months, surfers glided over the waves in the south of France wearing gaiters fitted with sensors on their calves. Its missions: collect data on the degree of pollution of bathing waters and surf spots

There are about ten volunteers. Surfers from the South West of France but also from Marseille. And yes, the Mediterranean has many corners! Throughout last season, from last June to the beginning of winter, that is, on average for every hundred hours in the water, a kind of gaiter with two polymer ends that serve to encapsulate a few grams of a very special powder capable of trapping micropollutant compounds.

The result of research carried out over 20 years, these sensors were designed by the EPOC laboratory (1) of the CNRS and the University of Bordeaux, which over the years has constantly reduced the size and weight of these passive samplers. ” We initially created them for static waters and then tried them on different supports: turtles, but also on giant clams, on sponges, fish (which was inconclusive), on boats attached to their hulls, etc. explains Hélène Budzinski, head of the LPTC team in the EPOC laboratory.

The “CURL” project, which consists of using surfers as support, was born with the support of the Police LabExat the initiative of Surfrider Europe Foundationlooking for data on water quality, and Ifremer (2) whose team will work in particular on metal contamination.

Presence of hydrocarbons, pharmaceutical residues, pesticides, etc.

While it is quite possible to place sensors on beacons or moorings in calm waters, it becomes more complicated in highly mobile, stormy and inaccessible areas of coastal shorelines. Therefore, the solution is the surfer who serves as support » explains Hélène Budzinski. Her lab received the sampling kits provided by the surfers in early 2022 and she will conduct her study this spring.

Previous research has already attested to this chemical contamination in bathing waters: the presence of hydrocarbons, for example, near industrial areas, pharmaceutical residues, particularly in aquatic areas located near treatment plants, cosmetics in more urban areas, pesticides in areas more rural…” The observation has been made. We know that the environment is contaminated in small doses, but our study aims to specify these concentrations and objectify them. adds the researcher.

Evaluate the impact of low doses but over a long period

Most studies are usually based on taking samples at a given time, the CURL project will allow this microcontamination to be measured over a longer period of time, that is, one hundred hours of the surfer’s immersion in the water. ” We will thus have indications on the accumulated doses to evaluate the possible exposure of the user. “, adds the CNRS chemist. The Ifremer research teams, in fact, will be in charge of measuring whether these low levels of micropollutants, but with prolonged exposure, can have an impact on the health of surfers or bathers.

See you this summer for the first results. The three partners will then be able to determine the relevance of this study concept, the immersion time needed in the water to obtain reliable data, possibly develop a kit for surfboards and decide to implement this device on a larger scale. Surfers from all over Europe have already volunteered…

(1) COPD : Oceanic and Continental Environments and Paleoenvironments

(two) ifremer : French research institute for the exploitation of the sea

mariana peyri



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