Flanders has ordered American company 3M, involved in a pollution scandal in Antwerp, to prove that emissions linked to its production activities do not expose people nearby to additional risks, or to halt production.
The Flemish Environmental Inspectorate on Tuesday morning imposed a safety measure after a recent blood test showed that 59% of almost 800 local residents in Zwijndrecht contained high levels of PFAS, especially PFOS or perfluorooctane sulfonic acid - a chemical hazardous to human and animal health.
"Patience is running out. 3M must demonstrate in black and white that it will not expose the environment to additional risks. If it does not do so within two days, 3M must immediately cease all production processes that lead to emissions until it can provide such proof," said Flemish Minister of Environment Zuhal Demir.
"Despite repeated demands for two months and despite a formal notice," Demir said, "essential information is still missing. On top of this, there are now particularly bad results from the blood test. Patience has its limits."
Polluting blood, air and soil
Last week, it was announced that, aside from unsafe levels of PFOS being found in the water, soil and blood of people in the vicinity of the site, new evidence indicated the air is also polluted.
Now, blood test results showed that the closer someone lived to the site, the higher the values recorded. Although exceeding these values does not mean that there is an immediate health risk, long-term effects cannot be ruled out, experts said.
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This is why the Agency for Care and Health advised that the "release of all PFAS components that lead to additional exposure must stop."
Since the pollution scandal made headlines earlier this year when it was reported that the government kept the contamination of the ground near 3M's Zwijndrecht site with PFOS quiet since 2018, 3M has been under strict surveillance by the Flemish environmental inspectorate.
This has led to various administrative and/or safety measures and just last week, the adjustment of 3M's environmental permit conditions to tighten its discharge permit, which 3M said it will be appealing, as "it does not provide a transitional period for 3M to comply."
However, it argued that it wants to work with the government to significantly reduce PFAS discharges "over the long term."