A Belgian court has rejected 3M's plea to overturn a recent ban on PFAS chemical production at its plant near Antwerp.
Environmental regulators for the Flemish regional government in Belgium two weeks ago ordered 3M to halt production of PFAS. It appears to be the first time any regulator globally has taken such action over the controversial class of chemicals.
In response, 3M Belgium requested an "urgent" suspension of the PFAS ban until a dispute with the Flemish government over the chemicals is resolved. On Friday, Belgium's highest administrative court, the Council of State, rejected 3M's plea.
"While we are disappointed with the Council's decision, we will follow the law," 3M said in a statement. However, more legal challenges from the company are in the offing.
The plant in Zwijndrecht is one of five PFAS manufacturing sites Maplewood-based 3M has around the world: the others are in Cottage Grove; Decatur, Ala.; Cordova, Ill.; and Gendorf, Germany.
Belgian regulators' edict to stop PFAS production came after recent blood samples taken from 800 people near the plant showed elevated levels of PFAS.
In a statement, 3M said Tuesday it expects to "engage with regulatory authorities" to meet new PFAS safety measures.
At the same time, 3M said it also will file a petition to "annul the safety measures in the coming weeks and are considering additional legal challenges."
3M has argued that the Belgian PFAS ban would cause the company and its customers irreparable harm. The company also noted that the ban wrongly suggests that PFAS production endangers people and the environment.
But Belgium's Council of State, in a written decision, said that 3M failed to demonstrate a "harmful position that is intolerable" or that a reversal of the order would alone "remedy the moral disadvantage that would clear its name again," said a press statement from Motley Rice, a South Carolina law firm that is a consultant to the Flemish government.
"Shutting down production lines in this manner is unprecedented," Esther Berezofsky, a Motley Rice attorney, said in the statement.
"The Council of States' decision sends a clear message that 3M must address the environmental and human impact of its PFAS disposal practices," she said.
PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are known for their nonstick and water-resistant properties and have long been used in products ranging from fabric protectors to firefighting foam.
But the so-called "forever chemicals" don't break down in the environment and can accumulate in blood. PFAS have polluted groundwater — including in Washington County — and some studies have linked them to health risks, including certain types of cancer.
3M stopped making PFAS chemicals at the heart of the controversy — PFOA and PFOS — about 20 years ago, and the company is facing a tidal wave of U.S. litigation over pollution related to those two compounds.
In Belgium, PFAS contamination involves both the old PFOS and failure to disclose releases of newer-generation substances in the family, Berezofsky has said.
The PFAS issue has been percolating in recent months in Belgium. Environmental officials in Flanders, the government region where the 3M plant sits, served both 3M's Belgium subsidiary and Maplewood-based parent 3M Co. with a "default notice."
Such a notice essentially warns 3M that Flanders deems the company to be violating its environmental regulations, and demands that 3M engage with its regulators to discuss remediation, abatement and the creation of a fund to pay for environmental damages and potential health damages.
In late September, 3M committed $145 million over three years to remediate PFAS-related environmental issues near the Belgian plant.