“Nuisance neighbour” 3M ordered to compensate family

A Justice of the Peace at a Magistrates Court in Antwerp has ruled that the chemical company 3M must pay provisional compensation of 2,000 euro to a family from Zwijndrecht (Antwerp Province). The family’s home is around 1km from 3M’s Zwijndrecht plant. Abnormally high levels of PFAS were found in the blood of the two adult family members and their two children.

During excavation work for the construction of Oosterweel Link PFAS contamination was found in the soil on land near to the 3M factory. PFAS caused a host of health issues. The members of the family that were plaintiffs in this case took blood tests to find out how much PFAS was in their blood. The test results showed that the PFAS levels in their blood were 100 times the level deemed to be safe. High levels of PFAS were also found in the soil at the family’s vegetable garden.

The family took their case to the Magistrates Courts and lodged a complaint against 3M under Article 3.101 of the Penal Code. This article refers to “excessive nuisance caused to neighbour’ and is usually used by people at their wits ends because of constantly barking dogs, noise nuisance from other sources and other forms of anti-social behaviour. However, here the “neighbour” is a big cooperation.  

While the plaintiff did not have to prove that 3M was at fault, several conditions had to be met for them to be granted compensation. For example, they had to prove that they are indeed “neighbours” of the 3M plant. Secondly, they had to prove that the nuisance they had suffered was the attributable to their neighbour. If, as is the case here, this is proved the neighbour is obliged to “redress this”, in this case with a compensation payment.

“Not competent to pass judgement”

The chemical company had initially argued in the a Justice of the Peace was not competent to pass judgement on the case. However, this argument was rejected. 3M also contested all the terms of the indictment, except for those regarding them being “neighbours” of the family.

The Justice of the Peace didn’t except 3M's argument and on Monday ruled that the company was indeed a “nuisance neighbour”.

In his ruling the JP said "The nuisance is excessive as the PFAS levels found ​​in the area where claimants live are abnormally high. These high levels that are the nuisance here are attributable to 3M as it has been determined that the majority of the PFAS contamination in Antwerp Province comes from 3M", the judge ruled. 3M was ordered to pay provisional damages of EUR 2,000 to the family as the contamination means that they can no longer fully use their property.

The ruling could set an important precedent for other local residents. 3M can still be appealed against the ruling.


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