Several top people of the American chemical company 3M have been interviewed for hours in the investigation committee of the Flemish Parliament into the PFOS pollution in and around the company’s site in Zwijndrecht.
Three top 3M executives – including US Vice-President Rebecca Teeters – (assisted by a lawyer) came under oath to the Commission of Inquiry about the PFOS contamination.
Many clear answers were not given to the many questions from the MPs, clearly to the chagrin of the politicians. But having a ready-made answer to everything is not easy, the people at 3M responded.
Teeters repeatedly stated that according to current scientific information 3M has, there are no negative health effects from PFAS/PFOS levels in the blood.
3M is taking actions, it sounded. The company is currently working on a new water purification system that should reduce PFAS discharges by 95 percent and ultimately by more than 99 percent in the short term, the company’s representatives said. They also promised to communicate better to the residents of 3M in Zwijndrecht.
“It remains a challenge to get the communication as good as possible,” said 3M director Vermeulen in parliament this afternoon on the reactions of the MPs. “Today people can get the wrong impression that we want to hide things. That is absolutely not the case. But the reality is that this is a fairly complex matter.”
Rebecca Teeters promised to send experts from within the company to the inquiry committee and asked for time to prepare.
Some Questions asked
Willem-Frederik Schiltz (Open VLD): “I still want to go along with the reasoning that no hard causality can be established at the moment. But there is a link and it is much stronger today than it was in 2000. Why did 3M decide to stop producing PFOS at the time? and is she so adept today at putting other PFAS products into production that there is even less scientific knowledge about?”
Hannes Anaf (Vooruit), the chair of the inquiry committee: “If you are unable or unwilling to answer, you can invoke your right to remain silent. But then you must motivate that.” The 3M lawyer did not agree with that request for motivation.
Mieke Schauvliege (Green) wanted to know, among other things, whether the toxic PFIB is produced at the site in Zwijndrecht. “The harmfulness of this is compared to mustard gas,” says Schauvliege. But 3M was unable to answer, much to the chagrin of the Green politician. “These are very essential questions that we still haven’t gotten an answer to. I think everyone on this committee is getting really angry.”
MP Tinne Rombouts (CD&V) :“3M had known for some time that there were problems with PFAS, but how they dealt with that knowledge remains largely unanswered after the company’s passage in the investigation committee. To top it off, 3M continues to insist that there is no link between PFOS intake and health effects. This is in great contradiction with what the experts have explained in the committee in recent weeks,”
Stefaan Sintobin (Vlaams Belang): “It makes little sense to get emotional, but I share the frustrations of the colleagues. I am shocked by a number of questions that there is no knowledge about it. I assume that we will ask for another visit”.
Flemish Minister for the Environment Zuhal Demir (N-VA) reacts on Twitter: “What a sad spectacle”.
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I love it when Americans send their “big guns” to Europe. They have an impressive curriculum, they’ve studied at the best universities, have the best PHDs, MBAs, impressive corporate experiences, they speak like movie stars. And they have that American aura … you know what I mean, that little “je ne sais quoi”.
Then we have the Flemish MPs …. recruited at the local fancy fair.
The symbol of Flanders is a lion. However, the Flemish lion is just a wet cat or a lion under morphine when facing a “big gun”.
3M’s strategy is to play the card of the “ignore everything” and “we don’t know”.
It’s their right, but there goes their corporate responsibility.
The world is watching. Will the Flemish Parliament make a fool of themselves? Will 3M manage to make their Belgian plant disappear?