Leaked emails shared with VRT indicate that members of the Flemish government decided back in 2017 that there was no need for the 3M factory in Antwerp to further investigate or communicate regarding pollution resulting from its work.
The pollution concerns PFOS, a chemical used to repel water and oil from fabric and other materials that was produced by 3M, the company best known for its Post-It notes, until 2002.
High levels of PFOS were discovered in the soil in the area around the factory when work began on the Oosterweel motorway connection in 2018 but, despite warnings, nothing was done.
Since then, studies have shown the pollution to be widespread: unsafe levels of PFOS have been found in the blood of people living near the factory, residents were advised to stop eating produce from their gardens and eggs from their chickens, and area farmers said the mounting issues have led business to tank.
Now, according to the emails examined by VRT, it appears that the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM) used 11-year-old measurements back in 2017 to determine that the pollution posed no serious risk.
A previously leaked mail from 2017 already showed that Antwerp’s mobility agency LANTIS (Leefbaar Antwerpen door Innovatie en Samenwerken) had urged OVAM to carry out more measurements and communicate their results, and all relevant politicians were included as recipients for that email.
But OVAM never replied, and later said that “a minister” asked them not to communicate further.
A leaked email from around that time reads: ‘I have since received explicit instructions from the Cabinet that we should not take a lead in this dossier for communication and should not carry out any research ourselves to check the residential area.’
Joke Schauvliege (CD&V) and Ben Weyts (N-VA) are now being said to have played an important role in this decision to have 3M no longer communicate about PFOS pollution.
Schauvliege was responsible for Environment at the time, and Weyts was serving as Mobility Minister competent for the works on the Oosterweel motorway connection.
Schauvliege denies she had any role in the decision to not research the pollution and block further communication regarding it.
Weyts has never denied that he was involved in the decision making process when it came to PFOS pollution from 3M, saying that he was aware of it but that it wasn’t his responsibility to communicate about it, and that OVAM had judged there to be no danger to public health, a judgement now known to have been based off of data over a decade old.
The Brussels Times