A view of the Tata Steel furnaces in the Netherlands.RAMON VAN FLYMEN / EFE
The future of the steel company Tata Steel in the Netherlands – part of Tata Steel Europe, a subsidiary of the Indian multinational of the same name – has been in question since a scientific report concluded that the amount of carcinogenic substances found in the dust around the factory outperforms other places further afield.
The work, presented yesterday, finds high concentrations of iron, vanadium, manganese and chromium, and there is also lead. Located in Ijmuiden, on the North Sea coast, the firm also emitted about 4% of the country’s total CO2 in 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Economy and Environment.
Tata Steel is one of the great Dutch employers. About 44,000 direct and indirect jobs depend on its activity, according to the unions. Next week, Parliament will debate what to do with an industrial complex the size of 1,500 football fields, which may need multimillion-dollar state aid to produce steel sustainably.
Tata Steel Europe includes the company operating in the UK, but the report refers only to Ijmuiden and its surroundings, and has been produced by the Institute for Health and the Environment (RIVM, in its Dutch acronym). Its experts have compared dust samples collected in the surroundings of the complex with others taken in places far from its facilities: they analyzed 29 points outside and another 12 inside homes. The result is that the amount of lead found exceeds the limits considered safe for health, and the same happens with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH, in its acronym in English) an organic compound that is found in the production of steel, iron and aluminum. The levels of other potentially carcinogenic substances are higher in the street than in the interior of the houses, although “exposure to lead, for example, is harmful for children in the long term, since it can generate neurological problems”, says the work . Neighbors – who work for the firm, some families for generations – have complained for years about the dark layer of dust that appears on their streets, gardens, cars and windows.
Tata Steel has around 9,000 employees in the Netherlands and produces more than seven million tonnes a year of steel used in the automotive and packaging industry, as well as in construction, according to data from the firm. In addition, according to FNV, the largest union in the country, there are some 3,000 companies that depend on the company’s steel, and this adds around another 35,000 jobs, so that a possible closure would also be noticeable outside the region where it is based. Hans van den Berg, the CEO of the company, told the Dutch TV show Nieuwsuur that moving it to another location is not the solution. “We use steel to wash, eat or drive; our society is based on steel and we believe that it should also be produced in the Netherlands ”, he said.
The firm has already disbursed 300 million euros in environmental measures. “We are the main CO2 emitter in the country, and the investments we need are of such a caliber that we will have to talk to the Government,” Van den Berg admitted to the cameras. By 2030, they expect to emit 40% less CO₂, leading to zero-emission steel production in 2050. In January 2021, Swedish steel company SSAB withdrew from talks about a possible purchase of the complex in Ijmuiden due to cost. of the necessary investments. “Tata Steel’s activities in the Netherlands do not fit into our sustainable strategy,” stated Martin Lindqvist, its director.
Air quality was not part of the study carried out by the RIVM, but a previous analysis by this same institute considered it “between moderate and insufficient”, noting the incidence of eye irritation, cough and breathing difficulties among the inhabitants. In 2020, the Dutch Comprehensive Cancer Center noted that there is up to 51% more lung cancer in some localities in the Ijmuiden area than the national average. Janneke Elberse, one of the RIVM researchers, concluded: “We have shown the sum of some undesirable data, but the conclusion derived from it is up to the politicians.”