“Everywhere we measure PFOS, we find it,” reported the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) earlier this year, after analyzing 172 water samples from streams, canals and rivers. And so VMM will conduct further research in 250 places in Flanders, the Belgian authorities wrote media yesterday. “We want to find out how diffuse the spread of PFAS in Flanders is, so not just around the ‘hotspots’,” said a spokesperson for the Flemish Minister for the Environment Zuhal Demir.
The announcement follows an eventful weekend in which the same minister Demir decided to shut down the branch of the American chemical company 3M in Zwijndrecht. According to the minister, the company has not provided sufficient information and clarity about its pfas emissions. With the shutdown, Demir wants to ensure that the exposure risks of local residents do not increase further.
In June of this year, the Flemish government ‘discovered’ during soil measurements at the major works on the Antwerp ring road (the Oosterweel Works) that there was PFOS in the soil in the vicinity of Zwijndrecht, a substance from the family of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances ( PFAS). That wasn’t really news, because the nearby 3M plant at that location had been producing PFOS until the early 2000s. But because soil investigations also take place during excavation work, the contamination was now indisputably revealed. Local residents were advised not to eat vegetables from their own garden and had to ignore the eggs of their hobby chickens.
To the shock of the Dutch, the 3M factory turned out to be allowed to discharge as much PFAS into the Scheldt per day as the Chemours factory in Dordrecht in 2 years.
What followed was a lot of unenthusiastic squabbles between 3M and the government, with 3M first pretending to bleed its nose, very reluctantly coming over with information and now suddenly dumping more than 11,000 documents, leaving that same government little else than the factory then – temporarily – to close. Under protest (you could almost say: of course) from 3M, which immediately possible job losses pulled.
Meanwhile, the circle of worried residents continued to expand, the safety of the Agriculture to be at stake (although later anyway was found to be food safe) and Belgian politics became more and more entangled in the problem, until a parliamentary inquiry to. Last week it was announced that more than 90% of the more than 800 local residents from a radius of 3 kilometers around 3M had found too high PFAS levels in the blood.
PFAS in the Netherlands
Concerns also increased in neighboring Netherlands, especially in Zeeland. To the horror of the Dutch, the 3M . factory turned out to be to be allowed to discharge as much PFAS into the Scheldt per day as the Chemours factory in Dordrecht in 2 years. That’s 180 times as much. Chemours has been producing Teflon, another substance from the ‘forever chemicals’ family, for years, and as early as 2017, residents living in the vicinity of the factory were no longer allowed to eat the vegetables from their vegetable gardens.
In the Netherlands, Minister Stientje van Veldhoven introduced the Temporary Action Framework PFAS in 2019. This turned out to effectively lead to a construction stop, because almost all soil (and water) did not meet the standards. The standards were relaxed to prevent the Netherlands from coming to a standstill, but this summer research by the RIVM showed that the Dutch ingest 1.5 to 2 times as much PFAS as would be acceptable.
PFAS (a group of about 6000 substances that with their fat-repellent and waterproof properties make modern life easy) we ingest through our food, drinking water, and even through the sky. They hardly break down in the environment, hence the nickname ‘forever chemicals’. Within Europe The Netherlands is one of the pioneers in achieving a European ban on pfas before 2025.
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Belgian 3M can discharge 720 times as much PFAS as Chemours in the Netherlands – Flemish minister closes 3M factory and will measure PFAS pollution everywhere – Foodlog