Until 2002, 3M Zwijndrecht produced PFOS synthetic fabric, which is water, grease and dirt repellent, but also non-biodegradable. The company’s site bottom water was pumped with PFOS particles for purification. Once this process is complete, it ends up in Scheldt as wastewater.
Since 2006, there have been regular measurements of PFOS concentrations in discharged water, by the Flemish Environmental Agency VMM, the Environmental Inspectorate and the waste company OVAM. This shows that 3M has repeatedly exceeded its maximum environmental permit value from 2008 – 30 micrograms per liter. Peak values were above 500 mcg per liter, or 16 times the standard maximum.
Moreover, not much has happened with the measurement results since 2011, according to VRT NWS. The Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) has not passed its measurements since 2011 – with the highest peaks in the series – to the Environment Inspectorate, the body that can take punitive action. VMM now says that the measurement technique is not yet perfect and that there are no conventions or instructions to pass on the results. In 2016, VMM exceeded excesses, but nothing happened because measurements by the Environmental Inspectorate did not show the same peak values. How this happens is not entirely clear.
All this time, the government was on top of everything, but for a long time it did not take any actions. Only in 2019 did the Environmental Inspection Authority take action and make an official report on the untreated discharge of rainwater, which eventually resulted in an administrative fine of 7,200 euros in December of 2020. After that, the values of PFOS concentrations decreased. Meanwhile, work is also underway on more stringent standards.
Former Minister Jock Schoufleg (CD&V), who was speaking on the environment between 2009 and 2019, briefly responds to the VRT NWS. If so, the investigation committee will have to clarify this. In any case, the Environmental Inspection Department operates completely independently.”
Saturn Demir (N-VA), the current environment minister, does not want to prejudge the work of the investigative committee. “I suppose all the services involved and their mutual cooperation will be the subject of the investigation committee. If there is something wrong with the system or too much division, that should be addressed in the future.”
at the morning On Radio 1, the minister added that “this is not how the Flemish inspection services should work”. “I understand that several services were working on this, but they weren’t aware of each other,” she said.
Demir also stated that a report was prepared in 2019, and an environmental violation was identified at 3M, but the attorney general decided not to pursue it. “Of course that’s exciting.”