Belgium rejects 3M appeal and tightens regulations on hazardous chemicals

Belgium rejects 3M appeal and tightens regulations on hazardous chemicals
Credit: Eric Lalmand/ Belga

The discharge standards of the Antwerp plant at the heart of a recent pollution scandal will be tightened despite an appeal by 3M, the company in charge of the factory at the site.

Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir announced on Tuesday that the appeal of multinational 3M against the decision to tighten the discharge standards of their Zwijndrecht plant has been rejected, resulting in the government cracking down on nine types of PFAS, synthetic chemicals dangerous to people’s health.

"For companies like 3M, I expect them to fully invest in limiting the present concentrations of hazardous substances to the strict minimum," Demir said.

This will result in the tightening of the relevant discharge standards to 0.1 µg/l with immediate effect, an increase compared to the contested decision.

Taking contested standards further

Amid the ongoing pollution scandal, studies have shown that PFOS (which belongs to the PFAS group) contamination has spread through air, groundwater and soil, and even the far reaches of the region. A recent soil study found the properties of residents of the Zwijndrecht neighbourhood may have to be excavated in order to remove PFOS.

Given the advancing understanding of the serious toxic impact and technical feasibility of removing PFAS from wastewater, the original environmental permit dated September 17, 2020, was updated in October last year to adjust the discharge standards for all dangerous substances between 1µg/l and 20 µg/l, with immediate effect.

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At the time, 3M appealed the decision, meaning Demir was asked to intervene. On the advice of the Regional Environmental Permitting Committee, the relevant discharges will be even further restricted, while separate discharge standards will be imposed on other substances, not nominatively mentioned in the permit.

"There will be close monitoring to ensure that these discharge standards are respected and action will be taken in the event of violations, as was previously the case through safety and administrative measures against the multinational," Demir said.

The Brussels Times contacted 3M for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.

In the meantime, Demir stressed that Flanders, alongside other regions and countries, including the Netherlands, will continue to plead for an EU level coordination to restrict the use of PFAS.

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