'Only for first phase': 3M promises extra €150 million to clean up PFAS pollution

'Only for first phase': 3M promises extra €150 million to clean up PFAS pollution
Credit: Belga

American multinational company 3M wants to set aside an extra €150 million for the clean-up of the PFAS contamination on and around its factory in Zwijndrecht in Antwerp, it announced in a press release on Wednesday.

The sum comes on top of the €125 million already announced in September 2021. Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir was quick to stress that this sum is only sufficient for the first phase of the clean-up.

"This [amount] is for the first phase of land remediation, precautionary measures such as digging up gardens, and additional measures around the Palingbeek to protect our environment," Demir said, following a meeting with the CEO of 3M, Michael Roman, on Wednesday.

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"To date, the largest remediation project in Flanders has had a budget of around €50 million, so this is considerable," she added. "This is a step in the right direction and it was a constructive discussion. But words are not enough and further steps will be needed."

This week, 3M was identified by the PFOS investigation committee in the Flemish Parliament as the major culprit of the historical PFAS-PFOS pollution in the wide area of Zwijndrecht. The final report, drawn up after 50 hearings with about 100 environmental, legal and other experts since June last year, was debated in the Flemish Parliament today.

The committee announced that it found that 3M did not communicate transparently enough about the pollution, and stated it was “disturbed by the attitude of the company,” which minimised its own responsibility and the harmfulness of PFOS substances.

Cooperation with Flemish Government

In its announcement, 3M talks about money for "proactive advance remedial measures," which will be taken on the basis of the first part of a new descriptive soil survey that was recently completed by an accredited external soil remediation expert.

"Today represents another important step forward in delivering on a broader set of commitments to our neighbours in Flanders," said Roman. "The entire remediation operation will be completed under the supervision of the competent authorities at all times."

According to Demir, the clean-up plan will be ready by the summer, adding that "multiples of this amount will be needed to clean up this massive pollution. But for the first phase, this is a sum that we can get to work with."

3M has already taken many measures to further reduce its current PFAS discharges, it said. For example, a new wastewater treatment system, process modifications and environmental technologies that reduce air emissions.

For local farmers, 3M set aside a sum of €10 million within the previously announced €125 million. In the meantime, 37 farms have also submitted a dossier for a compensation scheme. "This process is underway, and in the coming weeks, several dozen businesses will begin to receive payments," said 3M.

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