137,000 tonnes of soil to be replaced in remediation project surrounding 3M site

A remediation project in the wider area around the 3M chemical company site in the province of Antwerp requires the excavation and replacement of some 137,000 tonnes of contaminated soil. This was announced by the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM) on Tuesday.

In the press release, OVAM said it had received the plan for a phased soil remediation project for the residential and recreational areas in Zwijndrecht and Beveren from 3M Belgium. "Now the public enquiry will start. After that appeal procedure, 3M can start the remediation," said OVAM spokesman Jan Verheyen.

Eliminating PFAS exposure

The environmental clean-up project envisages a "living layer remediation", in which a top layer of up to 70 centimetres of contaminated soil will be excavated and replaced with new soil. This will eliminate exposure to PFAS contamination in the solid part of the soil.

An investigation into the soil showed that PFAS exposure is mainly through the consumption of eggs from free-range chickens or produce from home gardens. While the detoxed area will be restored as a vegetable garden, the chicken coops will not be. "Analyses of eggs show that even in zones with low concentrations of PFOS in the soil, concentrations in eggs are too high. Even after remediation, the usage advice will therefore continue to be not to consume home-grown eggs," the OVAM said. In areas with a recreational function, such as the grounds of a youth movement, the top layer will be excavated to a depth of 30 centimetres and replaced with clean soil.

There are approximately 3000 plots affected by the project, and the OVAM will inform its owners via letter. On 29 May, 3M will organise an information session in Zwijndrecht to explain the project to local residents. In the meantime, the public enquiry by the Zwijndrecht and Beveren municipalities will start, during which all interested parties - local residents, the municipalities themselves and the relevant authorities - can submit comments or objections.

No clear start date

The duration of the clean-up for the whole area is estimated at three to four years, but according to OVAM spokesman Verheyen, it is difficult to estimate when the clean-up can effectively start. "We cannot anticipate the appeal process. Everything depends on what is added during the investigation." The OVAM will take a decision at the end of July.

In 2022, a remediation project was drawn up for the zone with the highest concentrations in the immediate vicinity of 3M, known as Zone 1A. That plan was approved, but the procedure has not yet begun. For instance, a bridge must first be built for the supply and export of soil, Verheyen said.

#FlandersNewsService | © BELGA PHOTO DAVID PINTENS

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