The ILVA steel plant in Taranto, is Europe's biggest steel producer and one of Italy's greatest polluters

EU urges Italy to get polluting steel plant under control

The European Commission (EC) has warned Italy to force Europe's biggest steel plant to reduce dangerous pollution.

The EC has responded to complaints raised by citizens and NGOs living and operating in the vicinity of the plant's site in Taranto, southern Italy.

The ILVA steel plant, Europe’s largest iron and steel producer, has been convicted of heavily polluting the air, soil and ground waters of the city. The situation turned to worse after it was discovered the Tamburi quarter of the city of Taranto has been heavily contaminated by the plant’s operations.

The EC has now said Italy, by not addressing the problem properly, is breaching the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive that guides industrial activities with a high pollution potential in the EU.

According to the directive, Italy is responsible for ensuring ILVA, the plant’s operator, will take necessary remedial measure and cover the full costs of dealing with the damage.

The EC said Italy is putting health of Taranto's inhabitants at risk by not taking appropriate action. The Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik has sent a Letter of Formal Notice to Italy, giving it two months to respond.

The European Court of Justice condemned Italy on 30 March 2011 for not issuing industrial emissions permits to several industrial installations, including the troubled ILVA plant. However, Italian authorities issued an IPPC permit to ILVA on 4 August 2011 with a further extension guaranteed on 26 October 2012.

The EC is concerns whether the process pertinent to giving out the permit has been conducted in compliance with European law.

The IPPC Directive provides an EU-wide standard for licensing industrial and agricultural activities with a high pollution potential. Permits can only be issued if certain environmental conditions are met, so that the companies themselves bear responsibility for preventing and reducing any pollution they may cause. Permitting ensures that the most appropriate pollution-prevention measures are used, and that waste is recycled or disposed of in the least polluting way possible.

The Environmental Liability Directive sets up a framework based on the "polluter pays" principle to prevent and remedy environmental damage. Operators carrying out dangerous activities listed in Annex III of the Directive, including iron and steel production, fall under "strict liability", with no requirement to prove fault, provided a causal link between the activity and the damage is established. Affected natural or legal persons and environmental NGOs have the right to request the competent authority to take remedial action if they deem it necessary.

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