As of today (19 April), anyone living within a 5 km radius of the 3M plant in the Antwerp municipality of Zwijndrecht – which is around 60,000 to 70,000 people – can sign up to have their blood tested for the presence of PFAS.
The PFAS chemicals are hazardous to human and animal health, and are linked to various health problems such as high cholesterol, hormone imbalances and even cancer. Last year, such a blood test was already carried out on 796 residents living within a 3 km radius, following the pollution scandal surrounding the factory.
Now, a larger group will be given the opportunity to be tested. The blood tests themselves will start in the autumn, the Flemish Agency for Care and Health announced on Tuesday.
"Anyone living within 5 km and west of the Scheldt can register with their eID via the PFAS website of the Flemish Government," said spokesperson Joris Moonens. "In contrast to the previous blood test, now children under 12 can also register. A total of 60,000 to 70,000 people are eligible."
The radius is being extended to include all residents of Zwijdrecht and the Antwerp left bank (Linkeroever), the inhabitants of Melsele and Kallo in the municipality of Beveren, as well the residents of 127 addresses in the municipality of Kruibeke.
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Earlier reports already showed that the majority of the participants living in the proximity of the factory had "excessively high PFOS levels" in their blood. PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonates) are chemicals belonging to the broad family of PFAS (poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances).
Based on a PFAS blood result, however, it is not possible to predict what adverse health effects have occurred or could still occur. "But it does give people an insight into their personal, accumulated exposure, and can motivate them to properly follow the measures to avoid additional exposure to PFAS compounds as much as possible."
These new blood tests will be organised by Care and Health, which is opening an online registration system to gain insight into the number of interested residents. Residents are asked to register before 1 June.
"Every resident who registers will be contacted when it is their turn for a blood sample. However, due to limitations in the lab capacity, the blood samples will have to be spread out over several years, so it may be a while before you are contacted," said Moonens. "The general principle that we will follow is that whoever is closer to the 3M plant will be first. The order of application plays no role."
Teenagers are urged to sign up
Over the course of the blood tests, the Care and Health agency will consider whether more people are eligible based on interim results.
Additionally, teenagers born in 2007 and 2008 are urged to sign up for the more comprehensive youth study HBM-Environment 3M. In that study, all kinds of other measurements will also be taken, such as health measurements and measurements in house dust, in the soil of the garden, in vegetables from the garden and in eggs from own chickens.
Young people who qualify for the youth study will be personally invited by letter to their home address and can register through that route.
Eligible people can sign up for the blood tests via this link. Citizens with questions about the application can mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.