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Expert: PFOS-polluted soil could be a problem for centuries

© Belga

Soil polluted with the hazardous chemical PFOS dug up during works on the Oosterweel road link will be a problem for centuries to come unless is is dealt with, according to an environmental expert.

The chemical comes from years of leakage from the 3M factory in Zwijndrecht by Antwerp, which uses the chemical in a number of applications related to water- and dirt-repellents.

When the polluted soil was detected in 2018, the works on the long-contested Oosterweel link had just begun to break ground. The link is intended to complete the Antwerp ring road to allow port traffic easier access to the roads leading north and east from the city.

The polluted soil amounts to an estimated 135,000 cubic metres, with a concentration of 1mg PFOS per cubic metre – well above the safe limit.

The method selected to deal with the soil, in talks between contractor Lantis and waste agency OVAM, was to build a safety wall 1km long and 6.5m high, with the soil filling the space, packed in a safety foil.

Not good enough, judges William Leys from the engineering bureau AECOM, and an expert in soil clean-up, speaking yesterday before the Flemish parliament’s committee investigating the issue.

I would never say that such a film has a guarantee of 100 years, he told members.

Follow-up is at least as important, in the groundwater and in the surrounding area. A thorough follow-up is always necessary,” he said.

It is possible, for example, that something has been placed incorrectly, that there are production errors or that the roots of a tree still penetrate the foil. A quasi-perpetual follow-up is needed in order to be able to intervene and recover if necessary.”