Yesterday magistrates announced that a large section of the huge ILVA steel plant in Taranto in south Italy employing some 12,000 workers was to be seized, and thus closed, owing to very serious concerns over the health effects of pollution from the plant on the local population.
In the last seven years, over 11,500 people in the area have died from cardiovascular and respitarory illnesses which could have been caused by the Taranto plant.
Upon the announcement that a section of plant was to be seized, some 5,000 steelworkers marched upon the center of Taranto. Today, more steel workers took to the streets of Taranto in protest at what they see as a major threat to their livelihoods. Unions representing the displaced workers are calling upon Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti to intervene to save the steel plant which produces around 30% of Italy’s steel, and generates nearly 60% of the areas GDP. Some 80,000 jobs are thought to depend on the ILVA plant, so its closure would be an economic disaster for the Italian region of Puglia in which it is situated.
Prosecutors who sought the seizure of the plant claim they had no alternative in view of environmental reports which identified many health concerns. In addition to the seizure of areas of the plant, eight ILVA executives have been placed under house arrest.
The Taranto steel plant has long been the source of controversy and emissions from the production facility are thought to have been the cause of major health problems for those living in its vicinity.
Reports confirm this to be the case defining the health situation in the Taranto area as ‘highly critical‘, hence the decision to close part of the facility.
Over a 13 year period 386 deaths have been directly attributed to emissions from the ILVA steelworks.
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An epidemiological study of the area appears to imply that as many as 11,550 deaths in the last seven years could be linked to noxious emissions from the ILVA plant. 637 deaths were attributed to excessively high PM10 levels in the area. Also in the last seven years, just under 27,000 people have required some form of medical attention for ailments which investigators believe resulted from pollution caused by the plant. Children in the 0-14 age group living in the area have been suffering from cancers of the lung, larynx, bladder and increased incidences of leukemia, amongst other serious illnesses. Taranto has a population of around 196,000.
In 2002 the ILVA facility in Taranto emitted 30.6% of all dioxin emissions in Italy.
Despite growing concerns and complaints from the local population and environmentalists, very little had been done to establish whether or not the plant was the cause of many health issues until relatively recently.
Works to render the ILVA plant in Taranto more environmentally friendly are some 50 years overdue says a report on the Il Messaggero website. The cost of carrying out remedial works has been put at somewhere in the region of €330 million.
Two hundred workers from another ILVA plant in Genoa went on strike in sympathy for their troubled colleagues in Taranto.
The ILVA steel production facility is the biggest of its kind in Europe, and one of the largest in the world, according to the ILVA website.
Featured image steel mill (not the Taranto steelworks) by Jesper Schoen