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Italy: Uncertain Future for Polluting Ilva Steel Plant – and its 12,000 Employees

[All links point to Italian sources except where otherwise stated].

On July 26, 2012, six operating facilities at Ilva, Europe's biggest steel plant situated in Taranto, Italy, were put under judicial seizure on the grounds of pollution. This is only the latest chapter of an ongoing struggle involving the plant's high pollution and environmental risks (and related occupational issues).

According to Wikipedia [en]:

In 1991 Taranto was declared a high environmental risk area by the Ministry of Environment. As a consequence of the poisons discharged into the air by the factories in the area (most notably the ILVA steel plant), Taranto is the most polluted city in Italy and western Europe. Only 7% of Taranto's pollution is inhabitants-related: 93% is factories-related. The European Pollutant Emission Register (EPER) showed that in 2004, estimated dioxin emissions from the ILVA plant were responsible for 83% of Italy's total reported emissions.

This is how Davide Maria De Luca describes the current situation:

Fondato nel 1961, è un impianto siderurgico a ciclo integrale, dove cioè avvengono tutti i passaggi che dal minerale di ferro portano all’acciaio. Il fulcro della produzione sono i cinque altoforni, dove viene prodotta la ghisa. Ognuno è alto più di 40 metri e ha un diametro tra 10 e i 15 metri: al momento quattro altoforni su cinque sono attivi.

Established in 1961, it is an integral cycle steel plant, where all the stages for the transformation of iron into steel happen. The main area of production are the five blast furnaces, where cast iron is produced, each over 40 metres tall with a diametre of 10 to 15 metres. Right now, four out of five blast furnaces are still active.
The neighborhood of Tamburi, Taranto, opposite from Ilva. © Molnàr, used with permission

The neighborhood of Tamburi, Taranto, opposite from Ilva. © Molnàr, used with permission

Emissions-related issues

The results of two investigations, undertaken in a trial against the owners and directors of Ilva, showed that over a span of seven years more than 11,000 people died and nearly 27,000 were hospitalized in and around Taranto for conditions whose origin could be linked to the emissions generated by the factory.

Due to this, the entire plant may shut down, leaving about 12,000 unemployed in the area of Taranto, a figure which equates to over 30% unemployment; Ilva Taranto is, by itself, responsible for 75% of the area's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and 0.15% of Italy's.

The Italian government eventually decided to withdraw a formal complaint against the tribunal's decision to confirm the seizure, announced on August 7, while close to 1,000  people took the streets to acknowledge worker Cataldo Ranieri as leader of the protest against industrial pollution.

A reader of newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano explains in these terms the choices that the workers, even before the judges and government, have to make:

Morire di lavoro o morire perché non c'è lavoro?

To die because of your job, or to die because you don't have a job?
Taranto, rally on August 2nd, 2012.  © Molnàr, used with permission

Taranto, rally on August 2nd, 2012.  © Molnàr, used with permission.

Physicist and engineer Filippo Zuliani, from the Centre for Research and Development Tata Steel Europe, writes on his blog:

La vicenda dell’ILVA è complessa e dolorosa: da molti anni gli abitanti di Taranto sospettavano (eufemismo) dei problemi causati direttamente o indirettamente dallo stabilimento siderurgico, e le due perizie chimica e medico-epidemiologica disposte dal gip hanno liberato frustrazioni a lungo represse. Il sequestro dell’ILVA ripropone l’annosa dicotomia tra produzione e tutela dell’ambiente.

The situation at ILVA is complex and painful: for many years the citizens of Taranto have had their suspicions (euphemism) about the issues caused directly or indirectly by the steel plant, and the two investigations, chemical and epidemiological, conducted by the magistrate have let free frustrations that had for long been repressed. The seizure of ILVA poses the old dichotomy between production and environmental protection.

Zuliani adds that when national television news on channel TG3 asked a few workers of Ilva, ‘what would be the better choice: closing the factory or not’, they replied:

Non siamo noi che dobbiamo indicare la soluzione, noi rivendichiamo il nostro diritto a lavorare in sicurezza, in un ambiente sano per noi e per le nostre famiglie.

We're not the ones who have to indicate a solution, we claim our right to work in a safe (and) healthy environment for ourselves and our families.

For others, worried about the environmental and medical consequences of Ilva's activity, there is no alternative but closing down the plant for good.

On Il Fatto Quotidiano, Fabio Balocco writes:

Se una fabbrica produce veleni deve essere chiusa, perché prima di tutto, e non lo dico io ma la Corte Costituzionale, viene l’ambiente e la salute. Prima di tutto, anche dell’economia e quindi anche del posto di lavoro.

If a factory's production is poisoning, it needs to be closed because the main priorities, and it's not me stating it but the Constitutional Court, are environment and health. They come before everything, even economy and hence even before employment.

On the other hand there are those who, even acknowledging the seriousness of the environmental situation, support the right to work and side with the workers who are opposing the closure of the plant, asking that the owners and directors of Ilva pay for the damage they caused, investing in the conversion of the factory.

Taranto's Ilva, November 2, 2010 @ 22.39. Photo by Ilaria Longo from Facebook:

Taranto's Ilva, November 2, 2010 @ 22.39. Photo by Ilaria Longo from Facebook

Expressing their “solidarity with the fighting workers of Ilva,” La Rete delle Reti writes:

Nessuna azienda deve essere chiusa, nessun lavoratore deve essere licenziato, a ogni adulto deve essere assegnato un lavoro utile e dignitoso. […] È possibile imporre sia la difesa dei posti di lavoro che la tutela della salute e dell’ambiente! Riva deve risarcire un intero territorio dei suoi crimini a scopo di lucro e i soldi dello Stato vanno usati per avviare immediatamente la bonifica del territorio impiegando tutti i lavoratori, i precari e i disoccupati del territorio

No factory has to be closed, no worker fired and every adult has to be offered a dignified and useful job. It's possible to claim both the safeguard of employment and of the environment! Riva [Gruppo Riva (en) – currently the world’s eighteenth and Europe's third largest steel producer; in 1995 Riva Acciaio purchased ILVA, the largest Italian state-owned steel producer] has to pay back to an entire area because of the crime they committed for their own profit, and the state's money has to be used to start reclaim the territory immediately, employing all the permanent and temporary workers and the unemployed of the area!

Online protests

Meanwhile, protests and discussions are firing up online, including several groups on Facebook, such as NO all’Ilva di Taranto and TARANTO dice NO a ILVA, ENI e CEMENTIR !!! the biggest, counting 2,450 members.

Writing on Global Project the founders of a “spontaneous and politically unaffiliated committee” called ‘Free and Thoughtful Citizens and Workers,’ accuse the State as well as Riva, for the current situation:

Siamo uomini e donne stanchi di dover scegliere tra lavoro e salute. Imputiamo all'intera classe politica di essere stata complice del disastro ambientale e sociale che da cinquant'anni costringe la città di Taranto a dover svendere diritti in cambio del salario. […] Pretendiamo che chi ha generato questo dramma, lo Stato prima, la famiglia Riva poi, paghi per il disastro prodotto.

We are men and women tired of having to choose between work and health. We accuse the political leadership to be accomplice of an environmental and social disaster that for fifty years has forced the city of Taranto to sell out the rights of workers for a paycheck. […] We demand that whoever is responsible this tragedy, the state first, and then the Riva family, pay for the disaster they created. lists the workers’ requests, from Operai Contro website, in a more direct fashion:

Noi operai dell’ILVA vogliamo il salario completo anche se l’ILVA deve restare chiusa per dieci anni per la bonifica.

We, the workers of Ilva, demand our full salary even if Ilva has to be closed for ten years for the requalification process.

The committee, together with the main local unions, organised a rally on August 2, explaining:

Tutti coloro che considerano una vergogna il ricatto occupazionale a cui siamo stati costretti fino ad oggi e che vogliono immaginare e costruire insieme un'altra idea di città, a scendere per strada e a sfilare dietro il nostro striscione: “Sì ai diritti, No ai ricatti: Salute, Ambiente, Reddito, Occupazione.

All those who deem shameful the occupational threat we had to accept till today and want to imagine and build another idea of city, take the street and manifest behind the banner “Yes to rights, no to threats: health, environment, income, employment.”

During the rally, however, there have been clashes between two different groups of unions and protesters – Cobas (independent unions) and the representatives of self-managed social centres have blocked the rally, using teargas to stop the other unionists from speaking, with the motto “no to those who poison.”

On August 4, Italy's government allocated, as an emergency measure, 336 million euro to upgrade the factory, and the Minister of Environment declared a decree law to accelerate the renovation of the plant. On August 7, the Tribunal of Taranto confirmed the seizure of the plant, allowing the factory to work only towards conversion.

Taranto rally of August 2, 2012. © Molnàr, used with permission

Taranto rally of August 2, 2012. © Molnàr, used with permission

On Informare Per Resistere (Inform to resist) blog, Maria Ferdinanda Piva writes:

La bonifica promessa dal Ministro dell'Ambiente Clini sa tanto di bluff.

The reconversion promised by Environment Minister Clini sounds like a bluff.

For many, hope is long gone. The son of a worker from Taranto who died of cancer writes in a comment to newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano with the pseudonym of 9Nuer:

Sono andato via da Taranto venticinque anni fa. Mio padre morto per un tumore al cervello, mio suocero per un cancro allo stomaco ( guarda caso due tipi di tumore che hanno provocato un incremento dei decessi, secondo la perizia medica ). […] Un consiglio alle nuove generazioni. Andate via. È doloroso, ma è la soluzione.

I left Taranto twenty-five years ago. My father died of brain cancer, my father-in-law of stomach cancer (two kinds of tumor that have caused an increased number of deaths [in the area of Taranto], according to medical records). […] Advice to the new generations. Go away. It's hard, but it's the only solution left.

What will be the destiny of the workers and whether it will be possible to convert the plant has yet  to be seen. Meanwhile, the damages provoked by Ilva's operations this far won't cease to affect the population, who will pay with its health for many more years for the consequences of decades of pollution.



  • ….

  • like Curtis said I’m shocked that some people can get paid $4279 in four weeks on the network. have you look this(Click on menu Home)

  • Sheila Concitis

    As is understood life is important to preserve, however I feel the environmentalists should at the very least give the company a chance to fix the problem before shutting it down. Obviously shutting it down would put many people out of work and prevent them from being able to care for their families. And lets not forget that the government of Italy owned this facility and there were no complaints about pollution. Giving CLEAR thought to what is best for all involved would be the best bet. You have to have an open mind to solve problems, isn’t this what we teach our children at a very young age.

  • Sheila Concitis

    and let’s not forget the factory was there before the people, jus sayin

  • […] e mais de 100 mineiros a 373 metros da superfície do solo. Estes são os números envolvidos no mais recente drama [en] a surgir na Itália, causado pela crise econômica que está afetando toda a […]

  • […] und über 100 Bergarbeiter 373 Meter tief unter der Erde: Das sind die Zahlen in Verbindung mit dem jüngsten Drama, das sich in Italien zutrug und das auf die Finanzkrise zurückgeht, die ganz Europa […]

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