Removal of PFAS from contaminated sites will cost hundreds of millions of euros

An estimated 220 areas in Flanders where fires were extinguished using foam will need to be decontaminated of PFAS. The number of sites where the soil is polluted is predicted to increase sharply, costing hundreds of millions of euros, De Standaard reports on Friday.

Flemish waste company Ovam is investigating 831 sites where firefighting foam containing PFAS may have been used. These include firefighting exercise locations or places where foam has been used on large industrial fires. Ovam estimates that 220 such areas will have to be excavated or cleaned.

Another 4,000 high-risk locations have been listed as potentially PFAS-contaminated. Of 89 completed soil tests, 21 appear to require remediation. "It will take decades before everything is remediated, and that operation will cost hundreds of millions of euros," said Andy Pieters, chief of cabinet to Flemish Environment minister Zuhal Demir of Flemish nationalists N-VA.

Funding questions

"If those costs come entirely from the municipalities, many would go bankrupt," says Joop Verzele of Christian democrats CD&V, mayor of Kruisem, one of the municipalities where a clean-up is needed.

The municipalities want a regional sanitation fund to be set up to pay the costs. According to Demir's cabinet, other areas in Flanders are attempting this method. Flanders is assessing whether European regulations can be extended to make producers more liable for clean-up costs.

The Flemish government received 571 million euros from chemical giant 3M to compensate for PFAS pollution around its factory in Zwijndrecht. A remediation operation is under way at the old Opel factory site in Antwerp, costing approximately 4 million euros for the first phase. Ovam and the Antwerp Port Authority will bear the costs.

Attempts to remedy soil pollution are meaningless if PFAS continues to be used. For now, the fire brigade has switched to fluorine-free foam for use on fires in homes or gardens, but PFAS is still the choice for complex, industrial fires.



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