THE HAGUE, May 23 (Reuters) - The Dutch government said on Tuesday it would hold U.S. industrial group 3M Co (MMM.N) liable for polluting the Western Scheldt river with potentially harmful substances known as PFAS or "forever chemicals".

3M said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters that it had received a letter from the Dutch government's legal representative on Tuesday and was studying its contents.

The Netherlands said it would hold the company responsible for pollution in the Dutch part of the river allegedly caused by its nearby Belgian plant.

Higher than acceptable pollutant levels have resulted in financial damages for the fishing fleet and the government, the Netherlands said.

"I think polluters should pay (...). Holding 3M liable is in line with that basic position," Dutch Infrastructure and Water Management Minister Mark Harbers said in a statement.

3M said it had already invited the Dutch authorities to have a meeting about the PFAS situation in the Western Scheldt.

"(We) welcome the opportunity for conversation with the Dutch government and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management," it said in its statement.

3M's website shows it has a plant which makes products that contain PFAS on the Belgian side of the Scheldt river which originates in France.

Last December 3M set itself a 2025 deadline to stop producing PFAS. The European Union is considering a ban on the chemicals.

Perfluoralkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) do not break down quickly and have in recent years been found in dangerous concentrations in drinking water, soils and foods.

The chemicals have been used in everything from cars to medical gear and non-stick pans due to their long-term resistance to extreme temperature and corrosion.

But they have also been linked to health risks like cancer, hormonal dysfunction and a weakened immune system as well as environmental damage.

The Dutch government said there would be an assessment of how much of the alleged PFAS damages 3M could be held liable for.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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