DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) — Representatives of the Flemish government conducting a fact-finding tour in the United States visited Decatur on Thursday looking for information about 3M and PFAS contamination in the Tennessee River.
Zuhal Demir is the Minister of Environment for the Flemish government responsible for the Flemish regions and Antwerp. That government recently reached a multimillion cleanup settlement with 3M Belgium.
She said the visit to Decatur was about gathering information from a community facing similar challenges to her own.
“The same problem in Flanders and Antwerp and Zwijndrecht. and also with 3M and the pollution of PFAS, We made that settlement, an open-end settlement, to force 3M to clean up the pollution,” Demir said.
Demir and a group of Flemish journalists explored the Tennessee River during a visit Thursday.
“I think the problem is similar to the Flemish problem, and I want to know about the experience with 3M, you are dealing with a multinational, it is not easy dealing with them. Also, the information — what are they doing here, what is the next step,” Demir said.
Last fall, 3M reached settlements with the Tennessee Riverkeeper for river cleanup of PFAS chemicals and the City of Decatur for PFAS cleanup. Demir said community support is key in working through environmental cleanup issues.
“I also understand all the issues about jobs, but when your environment is not okay, it is impossible to work,” Demir said. “So health and healthcare for our people is the most important thing.”
The settlement with 3M Belgium includes $250 million for remedial cleanup actions.
Rebecca Teeters, 3M’s vice president of environmental strategies and initiatives, told News 19 the company’s discussions with the Flemish government took about a year to reach a settlement.
“Our commitment is to move forward with each community, understand their needs and make our commitment to address our legacy contamination,” Teeters said. “And to make sure our operations moving forward have minimal environmental impact. It’s just a common commitment across all of our locations.”
Demir said she’s also reached an information sharing agreement about PFAS with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
3M’s settlement with the Flemish government includes $250 million for remediation cleanup efforts and $100 million for the Flemish government to use in connection with PFAS emissions at 3M Belgium’s factory. And another $100 million to help clean up a major construction project in Antwerp.