Contamination of soil with possible health risks around 3M pollution site

Contamination of soil with possible health risks around 3M pollution site
The 3M plant at Zwijndrecht. Credit: Belga

Serious soil pollution, of which human-toxicological risks cannot be excluded, has been detected in the residential and agricultural areas in Zwijndrecht and Beveren around American multinational 3M's site.

Earlier reports have showns the air, soil and blood of people in the proximity of 3M’s factory were contaminated with PFOS, a chemical that is hazardous to human and animal health, and is linked to various health problems such as high cholesterol, hormone imbalances and even cancer.

Waste disposal company OVAM announced on Thursday that the results of the descriptive soil investigation (BBO), which was analysed by various government and independent bodies, confirmed that the contamination with PFOS and other PFAS is serious and risks to humans cannot be excluded.

"The assessment of the descriptive soil test by OVAM is another step in the right direction to clean up the pollution around the 3M site. But words are not enough and further steps will be needed," Flemish Minister of Environment Zuhal Demir said.

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"In the first place, the responsibility lies with the polluter 3M to turn words into deeds. The polluter pays and we do not deviate from that."

OVAM concluded that the contamination identified is "predominantly historical," but that contamination arose both before the first Soil Decree (in 1995) and afterwards, meaning soil decontamination is necessary. This must be carried out by 3M, which was recently found responsible for the historic pollution.

The owners of the approximately 4,600 affected plots will receive a soil certificate in the course of the next few days with the data from the BBO, as well as an accompanying letter with information on the usage recommendations that apply to their land

Step by step clean-up

The company is expected to draw up a soil remediation project by 1 July this year for those living in close vicinity of the plant (the orange area on the map below), including the area between the E34 motorway in the north, the N70 in the south, the Vlietbosbeek in the east and the Neerstraat and Richard Orlentstraat in the west.

"The intention is to start the clean-up before the end of the year," OVAM stated.

A map of the affected areas. Credit: OVAM

For the wider area where soil contamination was also recorded, 3M must prepare a plan by 1 December. These are studies by another soil remediation expert, who will propose to OVAM the techniques to be used, the expected results and the timing of the remediation.

In the meantime, OVAM has urged 3M to continue its investigations in order to define the perimeter of the contamination more precisely.

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