• Asbestos
  • Micro- and nanoplastics

Emerging contaminants

As soil remediation expert, we inspect the quality of the soil, the ground water or dredging sludge. These analyses are often limited to a number of “standard” hazardous substances, but awareness about new substances - that have only been in use for several decades - is increasing. As a result, these new substances can also be considered a cause for concern.

What makes a contaminant a contaminant of (very) high concern? A number of criteria need to be met:

  • the contaminant is or was used extensively, meaning that it can easily end up in the soil
  • the contaminant is persistent and results in moderate to strong absorption by the soil
  • the contaminant is toxic to humans and/or the environment

Witteveen+Bos is expert in these new “emerging” contaminants, such as: PFAS, 1,4-dioxane, microplastics, brominated flame retardants,…. For example, we have set up the PFAS expertise centre, we perform soil investigations using state-of-the-art research methods, we guide the government in drafting guidelines for emerging contaminants and we advise clients about the options for remediation of contaminated soils.

We also continue to pay special attention to existing - but no less concerning - contaminants, such as asbestos.

Expertise regarding PFAS forms the basis for Flemish guidelines

PFAS (Poly- and Perfluoralkyl Substances) have useful properties, which make our daily lives easier. For example, these contaminants are resistant to high temperatures and they ensure that materials repel water, fat or dirt.

As a result, PFAS are used in many products, such as fire-fighting foam, paint, pans, pizza boxes, ski wax and stain protection. Almost everyone has products containing PFAS at home. However, scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated that PFAS do not degrade. They accumulate in the environment and this results in negative effects on our health, the water quality and ecology. This group of substances consists of more than 1,000 different substances, each with their own unique properties. In this regard, PFAS are also referred to as “forever chemicals”.

Witteveen+Bos was a member of the advisory group for the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM) . We worked together in drafting the Flemish guidelines for PFAS research, as well as deriving the target values for perfluor compounds and other emerging contaminants.

Witteveen+Bos also co-founded the PFAS expertise centre. This knowledge platform was established in 2012 by our Dutch colleagues, TTE Consultants and Arcadis.

Asbestos research, remediation and processing

Asbestos is a natural product that was often used in and around buildings in the past. As this substance is very harmful to health, the production and use of asbestos was banned in the 1990s. Nevertheless, asbestos is still omnipresent in our surroundings.

In recent years, Witteveen+Bos has built strong expertise in the analysis, the remediation and the processing of asbestos-containing soils. We supported the OVAM in drafting the procedures for asbestos research in Flanders. We are also recognised as Vlarel laboratory for the collection of samples from waste materials, allowing us to detect asbestos in hardening, foundation and soil layers.

A procedure is currently taking place, by which Witteveen+Bos could receive an additional accreditation for the collection of asbestos samples from recycled granulates.

Detection of microplastics and nanoplastics

Microplastics are formed by the use and deterioration of plastic products and they are everywhere. Microplastics have already been detected in food and drinks, such as: oysters, prawns, beer and honey. Whilst the use of plastics is still increasing, there is not that much information about the risks of these minute particles.

The Belgian government has not yet drafted tangible requirements or standards for microplastics in water and soil. Witteveen+Bos is trying to be proactive. For example, students get the opportunity to work - under the supervision of our experts - on certain topics, such as the detection of microplastics and nanoplastics, as well as the current policy framework.

Our projects

More information?

Samuel Van Herreweghe

PMC manager Soil and Groundwater