The Dutch government is holding US chemicals company 3M liable for polluting the Westerschelde estuary which cancer-causing PFAS.
3M is based in Zwijndrecht in Belgium and has for years dumped PFAS in the Schelde river, which flows into the estuary. Last year the Flemish government reached a deal with 3M which agreed to pay €571 million, largely to clear up the polluted land around the town.
“There is too much PFAS in the Westerschelde which is worrying locals and causing financial damage to fishermen and the government,” infrastructure minister Mark Harbers said in a statement. “The polluters should pay, not the users. Holding 3M liable is part of this.”
Last year government inspectors made an inventory of the extra costs the infrastructure ministry faces because of the pollution. This includes funding for extra monitoring and removing polluted silt.
In February, Zeeland province also started collecting information from local businesses, including fishermen and campsite owners, about their costs.
Last year, the Dutch public health institute RIVM warned people to eat as little fish and shellfish caught in the estuary as possible because of the high levels of chemicals they contained.
While PFAS pollution has been well established, experts will now try to assess exactly what 3M is responsible for, the Dutch government statement said. At least 30 Belgian companies are still legally allowed to pump chemical waste, including PFAS, into the Westerschelde estuary which separates the Netherlands from Flanders, local broadcaster Omroep Zeeland said last year.
The companies are being allowed to dump dangerous chemicals under a transition agreement that runs until 2024.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals) are widely used, long-lasting chemicals, valued for their ability to repel oil and water and which have been linked to health risks in humans and animals.
In particular, PFAS are thought to have a role in liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.
3M told Reuters news agency that it had received a letter from the Dutch government’s legal representative on Tuesday and was studying its contents. It also said government officials have been invited for talks.
According to the Volkskrant, last week 3M was ordered to pay a Flemish family €2,000 in compensation because of the high level of PFAS in the children’s blood, clearing the way for other claims.
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