PFAS pollution: Large-scale blood tests for households near 3M plant

PFAS pollution: Large-scale blood tests for households near 3M plant
An action of Greenpeace Belgium who placed a message on the 3M plant in Zwijndrecht, after the PFOS pollution case, Wednesday 14 July 2021. Credit: Katleen Vastiau/Belga

Blood testing began on Monday for residents living in the vicinity of the 3M factory in the Zwijndrecht municipality in Antwerp. The factory has been the subject of a long pollution inquiry after it was found to have leaked contaminants into the local environment.

The long-term and large-scale testing effort sees locals within a 5 km radius of the plant have their blood tested for the presence of PFAS (also known as "forever chemicals"). These are man-made substances that can cause various health problems, including cancer. Large amounts of the chemicals were discovered in 2018 in the ground near the 3M site, where it produced the harmful substance until 2002.

“The more people participate in the study, the better we can investigate the distribution, causes and consequences of PFAS in the blood," said Flemish Welfare Minister Hilde Crevits. Currently, about 9,000 people have signed up for the study but that number may rise in the coming weeks.

Tests for all residents

"I hope that even more people sign up. Together with the local authorities and action groups, we will continue to disseminate information about the blood tests, for example through posters in the streets and on social media," Crevits said. "Extra efforts will also be made for target groups that are more difficult to reach."

Previous tests in more defined target groups have already shown that many people living in the vicinity have excessive levels of the harmful chemicals in their blood. Testing will allow anyone with concerns to find out their exposure to PFAS.

Participants can expect results approximately 14 working days after their blood is sampled. PFAS prevention workers and GPs in the region are also prepared to answer questions about health and exposure. Medical research into the results will be published no later than the summer of 2025.

Last week, 3M was ordered by a court in Antwerp to pay provisional damages of €2,000 in compensation to a family from Zwijndrecht whose blood was contaminated by its activities. Last year, the family sued the American company after discovering all four members had abnormally high amounts of PFAS (up to 100 times higher than the accepted threshold) in their blood.

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On Monday, the first blood tests were carried out at the “Z+ Center” in Zwijndrecht; additional (temporary) locations will be opened outside the municipality during the course of the research.

The large scale of the research offers the opportunity to look for connections between PFAS in the blood and possible health effects. The research should also provide more insight into the geographical distribution, exposure factors, etc.

Registration is possible until July 1 via the website.

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