July 25, 2021

In Belgium, extensive soil pollution detected near a site of an American multinational

Betty’s garden is full of green salads, cabbage, tomatoes and her eight chickens laid eggs well this morning. “But what do you want me to do with all this now… It’s for the pigs at the farm next door?”, laments this valiant septuagenarian whose apron marks her attachment to the Red Devils, the Belgian football team. All because of this factory and the politicians who lie. “

Betty lives on the outskirts of Zwijndrecht, in the province of Antwerp, where a factory of the American multinational 3M is located. It was around this large rectangular building, stamped with the famous bright red logo, that in mid-May, a high concentration of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a synthetic substance of the perfluorinated family, was revealed. which was used in the manufacture of waterproofing and stain repellents. 3M, world leader, decided to phase out production from the 2000s. In Zwijndrecht, it was stopped in 2002.

It took fifteen years for a massive presence of highly toxic PFOS in the soil to be detected – but ignored – near the largest city in Flanders. And four more years for what could be one of Belgium’s biggest environmental scandals to erupt, with culpable silence on the part of the authorities. The Antwerp public prosecutor’s office announced on Wednesday 23 June the opening of an investigation for infringement of environmental laws and illegal dumping of waste.

Effects minimized by manufacturers

While information was suddenly jostling thanks to detailed newspaper investigations, the regional government decreed, a week ago, a ban on the consumption of vegetables, poultry, eggs and tap water within a radius of 1.5 kilometers around the site. . Specialists from the University of Antwerp, obviously more worried, take samples within a radius of 15 kilometers, which concerns a total of nearly a million inhabitants.

One of their colleagues, the toxicologist Jan Tytgat, of the Catholic University of Louvain, had, for his part, established in October 2017, at the request of BAM-Lantis, a mobility management company in Antwerp and contracting authority work to complete the Antwerp ring road, a report citing worrying rates of contamination. The document was sent to the Flemish Agency for Waste Management (OVAM). The pollution had been discovered during these major works, and the presence of PFOS clearly threatened public health and the food chain.

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