US giant 3M accepts big payout in Belgian chemicals scandal

A photo taken on June 15, 2021 shows the 3M factory in Zwijndrecht, Antwerp LO. — AFP photo

Wednesday, July 6, 2022 9:22 PM MYT

BRUSSELS, July 6 – US multinational 3M today agreed to pay 571 million euros (RM2.5 billion) to resolve a dispute over years of toxic discharges around its factory in Zwijndrecht near the port city Belgian from Antwerp.

3M and the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders announced the settlement in a joint statement, saying it resolved “ongoing disagreements” related to the production of widely used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the plant. .

PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals that hardly degrade in the environment or in bodies. 3M has long denied responsibility for the high levels detected near its factory.

“It’s no secret that Flanders was counting on… a clear signal to the Flemish people and as a sign of respect,” said Belgium’s Flemish region’s environment minister, Zuhal Demir.

“Through this agreement, we will be able to get things done in the best interests of the people of Zwijndrecht, our local farmers and our overall prosperity and well-being,” she added.

In the agreement, 3M will invest the 571 million euros for the benefit of the local community and Flanders.

John Banovetz, executive vice president for environmental responsibility and chief technology officer of 3M, hailed “a major step forward” for the company “and the people of Flanders”.

“It also reflects 3M Belgium’s continued journey as a responsible manufacturer and our willingness to engage with the communities in which we live and work to chart a positive course for the future,” he added.

PFAS is a family of synthetic chemicals that are resistant to intense heat and can repel water and grease.

They are found in cars, planes, clothing, leather, household products, electronics, food and medical items.

But when they seep into groundwater, surface water and soil, PFAS can pose a toxic health risk and they persist for a very long time.

Some PFAS can harm fetal development, cause cancer, and are suspected of disrupting the human endocrine system which manages the body’s hormones.

The Flemish health authorities published a study in October showing that 59% of adults and adolescents living within three kilometers of the 3M factory had concentrated levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), a type of PFAS, in their blood.

They were at risk of developing problems with cholesterol, diabetes and infertility, the researchers found.

The EU has restricted PFOS for more than a decade, and since 2009 it has been included in the Stockholm International Convention to phase out its use entirely.

The 3M factory in Belgium was already in the sights of the authorities following an earlier study which showed high levels of pollution in the soil nearby, carried out during works to extend the ring road around Antwerp. —AFP