Citizens and administrators have long been concerned about PFAS contamination in the Western Scheldt by the 3M chemical plant. There will be a national health study on the consequences of PFAS, which the province of Zeeland would like to take priority.
It emerged today that 3M in the US has reached a settlement of more than $10 billion with a slew of water companies over PFAS contamination. Funds should be used to test and control contamination with PFAS. However, 3M does not yet admit responsibility.
Dick van der Velde is the MP for the province of Zeeland and is therefore closely involved in the ongoing 3M case. How is the settlement seen in the United States? “It’s a nice move, I think. We see now that these kinds of settlements have already been made a number of times. And that may give our Secretary hope in the talks he’s going to have with 3M, that such agreements can be made here as well.”
As governor of the province, he regularly hears about the concerns of the people. “We don’t have signals that people are really sick, but of course PFAS is known to do something for your health. It signals cancer, it signals immune systems. Of course, that just worries people.”
What is PFAS?
PFAS is a collective term for a group of thousands of chemicals with special properties. They are stable and repel water and fat. This is very practical. That’s why it’s been incorporated into all sorts of products in recent decades: from pizza boxes and frying pans to raincoats and firefighting foam.
Substances that fall under the collective term PFAS do not occur naturally in nature. They are man-made. A number of these substances are known to have an adverse effect on the environment and health. They are also known as the eternal chemicals because they hardly dissolve. At the end of last year, 3M announced that it would stop producing and using PFAS in 2025.
Make a nuisance
Van der Velde maintains close contacts with the various stakeholders. “We have contacts with local administrators, and therefore with the municipality, but also with residents and business organisations. It is about all parties that play a role in this story.”
“Our biggest role is actually to make a lot of noise. Especially with those parties that can take steps to bring the urgency to their attention.”
Less PFAS as a target
He also holds regular meetings with Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management Mark Harpers. “This is of course about the concentration of PFAS in the Western Scheldt. How can we reduce it? What organizations do we have to deal with for this?”
“And what can we do in terms of regulations? But it also relates to, for example, the reported health research from the RIVM. We’ll also discuss that and the progress of it.” Compensation was recently awarded to a family in Belgium who live near a 3M factory. As a result, a group claim is prepared.
“I understand that the Cabinet will write to the House of Representatives about this research in the very short term,” says van der Velde. “This is about how this research should be designed in the context of PFAS.” I hope to hear how people in Zeeland and the Western Scheldt will get a place in it. “
The results of national research into PFAS should lead to better care and allay residents’ concerns about their health. The research is not intentionally conducted in the Zeeland region only, so that results can be compared nationally.
Serious place for Zeeland
However, van der Velde defends an important role for Zeeland in this research: “I think we should at least have a serious place. Because of course we know that the concentration of PFAS in the western Scheldt is higher than in other places in the Netherlands.”
“It would be strange, then, if we were not given a special place in this search. And, by the way, we also made agreements on this subject. This obligation has been kept, but I am curious as to how this can be done.”
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