Flanders to launch large-scale investigation into PFAS in groundwater

Flanders to launch large-scale investigation into PFAS in groundwater
Groundwater levels were low in more than half of measuring stations. Credit: Belga

The Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) is planning to conduct a large-scale study into the presence of PFAS, synthetic chemicals proven to be dangerous to people's health, in the region's groundwater.

The study, expected to take place early next year, will focus on detecting 36 PFAS substances, including PFOS – a chemical hazardous to human and animal health of which high levels were discovered in the blood of hundreds of local residents near the 3M factory at the heart of a recent pollution scandal.

"We want to measure levels across the whole region, and not only focus not on these hotspots, because we want to understand PFAS spreading routes in Flanders," Katrien Smet, the VMM's spokesperson, told The Brussels Times.

"We want to gain insight into the situation of the groundwater, we have a measuring network of around 250 wells, and here we will measure whether pollution is occurring, to what extent, and if there is an impact on health, whether there are measures needed to control this," she added.

She explained that the launch of the investigation is linked to the discoveries made around the 3M site in Zwijndrecht as well as the De Naeyer paper factory in Willebroek, but that it is also part of the PFAS action plan launched by Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir at the start of this year.

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So far, the VMM already analysed 172 samples in streams, canals and rivers, and found levels of the chemical PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in all samples. In Wallonia, the first results of a biomonitoring initiative also showed "worrying concentration levels of chemical substances."

In response to these findings, it was announced last month that Belgium is supporting a European ban on the use of PFAS, also known as Forever Chemicals because they take a long time to degrade in nature.

As part of the study, the groundwater in Flanders will also be tested for the possible presence of various medicines such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.

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