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3M promises €150 million to clean up its pollution in Antwerp

3M site in Zwijndrecht near Antwerp
15:40 31/03/2022

The American chemical company 3M is promising to invest €150 million in cleaning up the pollution it caused in the Antwerp neighbourhood of Zwijndrecht, according to a statement by the company. 

The ongoing pollution scandal has resulted in study after study showing the negative effects of PFAS contamination resulting from the company’s industrial operations in Flanders, both on the environment and on people living within a large radius of the plant. 

The government has warned people living in the whole of Flanders not to consume eggs from their own chickens or too much produce grown in their gardens, due to the high concentrations of the dangerous substance in both the soil and air. 

PFAS contamination has even been observed in the blood of people living near the factory. 

“We want to establish a constructive, collaborative relationship with Flemish authorities to address the concerns of all stakeholders. Today represents another important step forward in delivering on a broader set of commitments to our neighbours in Flanders,” said 3M chairman and chief executive officer Mike Roman in a statement.

“These investments help enhance our environmental stewardship and achieve longer-term stability for 3M's operations in Belgium. We continue to advance and operate non-PFAS related manufacturing there, while working to get more PFAS-enabled manufacturing processes up and running in compliance with local safety measures.”

A legacy of ‘gigantic’ pollution and many years of work ahead

3M says it has committed to address legacy PFAS the company previously produced at its Zwijndrecht facility, although for much of the time period during which scandal after scandal emerged, they refrained from commenting, appealed a ruling to shut them down and dragged their feet when it came to providing information requested by the government. 

“Despite repeated demands for two months and despite a formal notice, essential information is still missing,” Flemish minister of environment Zuhal Demir said late last year in a warning that “patience has its limits”.

Demir says this recent €150m will be used to start excavating the gardens of local residents, among other things, but the works are only a first phase: “We will need years more to clean up this gigantic pollution, and then we will need many more times this amount.”

3M says an accredited third-party soil remediation expert recently completed significant work on a soil investigation that should help inform remedial actions both onsite and in the surrounding area. 

The company says costs associated with initial remedial actions are currently estimated at €150m. The actual cost is likely to be much higher. 

Especially disadvantaged are farmers in the area, faced with a government warning that no one should consume the products whose production represents their livelihood.

3M says it’s working collaboratively with the Flemish authorities and local farmers' association to establish “a goodwill compensation process”. 

“This process is underway, and in the coming weeks, several dozen agricultural businesses will begin to receive payments,” the company said in a statement. 

Photo: The 3M logo at the site in Zwijndrecht © Belga

 

Written by Helen Lyons