PFAS is prevalent in Europe, as confirmed during the two-day international PFAS conference held in Antwerp on 1 and 2 February 2024 under the EU presidency. How is the progress on the Action Plan addressing these 'forever chemicals'? What's the current status of European legislation, and how feasible is its enforcement? Minister of Environment Zuhal Demir set the tone with an introductory statement, acknowledging that while the past cannot be changed, there is now an opportunity to do better. The Flemish Knowledge Center for Innovative Remediation Techniques (KIS), led by Leen Bastiaens, seized this moment to unveil their initiative.

Speakers and guests from all corners had made their way to Antwerp. This is no coincidence. In recent years, Flanders has actively taken the lead in addressing PFAS pollution, particularly since the PFAS incident around the 3M factory in Zwijndrecht led to unprecedented awareness of the harmful effects of PFAS.

During the plenary session, Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea from the European Directorate-General for Environment was quick to state that Europe is not powerless. "Since 2019, the European Parliament has been urging the avoidance of PFAS. We have the PFAS action plan with directives on drinking water, groundwater, and food." However, he also admitted that the revision of the REACH regulation has been postponed and will be deferred to the next elections. "But that should not deter us from exploring alternatives that are both technologically and economically feasible. And alternatives do exist. We just need to clearly communicate to the public what is already available." This discussion served as a common thread throughout the two days – to what extent are PFAS necessary and irreplaceable?

Loren Denton from the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) perfectly outlined how PFAS pollution should be addressed: at the source and based on scientific research.

VITO is closely involved in PFAS policy in Flanders. Years ago, VITO sounded the alarm. However, it was only through the PFAS issues in Zwijndrecht that the urgency of the forever chemicals problem became apparent. At this conference, VITO's expertise was strongly highlighted. Stefan Voorspoels and Jelle Hofman, representing VITO as a reference center, shared their expertise.

The launch of the Knowledge Center for Innovative Remediation Technologies (KIS) was also presented to the international audience. Led by Leen Bastiaens (VITO), this center aims to bring together experience and knowledge to accelerate innovation in the remediation of contaminated soil, water, and air. This involves considering technical, economic, and social aspects. The first research topic: PFAS. Johan Gemoets (VITO and KIS) presented this new non-profit organisation on day 2's plenary session to the attendees.

On the same day, visits were also made to remediation and monitoring activities in the Zwijndrecht region. The setups of VITO's air quality measurements were visited, as well as the soil recycling center GRC Kallo and the facilities for cleaning drainage water at the Oosterweel construction site.

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