ECHR Opens Proceeding against Italy over ILVA’s Case

Employment and Social Affairs
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has formally launched a proceeding against Italy because the State did not protect the health of citizens of Taranto from the effects of pollutant emissions of ILVA, an Italian company focused on producing and processing of steel.

The European Court of Human Rights, the international Strasbourg-based Court set up in 1959 to rule on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights, considered that the evidence submitted by the prosecution in the ILVA case is solid enough to open proceedings against Italy.

The appellants are fighting for the right to life and physical and mental integrity and accused the Italy of not having “taken all necessary measures to protect the environment and their health.” They also claim that the various “Salva ILVA” decrees –  adopted to preserve the steel plants – represent a breach of their right to respect for private and family life.

Every year, around 102,000 workers in the EU die because of occupational cancer, which is the first cause of work-related deaths in the EU, accounting for 53% of the total.

To improve protection for workers from cancer-causing chemicals, the Commission has proposed to change the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (2004/37/EC) in order to limit exposure to 13 cancer-causing chemicals at the workplace.

 The Institution of Proceedings by the ECHR Must not Be Taken for Granted

Between 2013 and 2015, 182 citizens of Taranto and nearby towns have formed a civil action and presented a collective redress. Some of them represents their deceased relatives, while other stand up for their sons or daughters, who got ill because of the pollutant emissions.

Among the evidence analyzed by the judges in Strasbourg, there were two studies issued in 2012 by the National Institute of Health, which define Taranto as “an unhealthy living environment.”

The institution of proceedings by the ECHR was not to be taken for granted, as the judges in Strasbourg have declared similar cases inadmissible.

Last year an Italian woman – who eventually died of Leukemia –  claimed that the emissions caused by ILVA’s plant, which was close to her house, had a causal link to her disease (Sala v. Italy, case No. 43961/09). However, her case was not found admissible by the judges.

Thus, the evidence presented by 182 applicants was considered particularly strong by the European Court, while the Italian trial on the alleged environmental disaster caused by emissions has resumed in Taranto.

 A New Commission Proposal Aimed to Protect Workers Across the EU

Meanwhile, the Commission has proposed to include new or amended limit values in the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive as a way to address exposure to 13 cancer-causing chemicals.

As a specific example of a new chemical agent to be added to the list, there is the ‘respirable crystalline silica’ (RCS). The Commission proposes to include it in the Directive as a ‘process generated’ substance, namely dust produced by work processes such as mining, quarrying, or tunnelling or cutting, crushing or grinding of silica-containing materials such as concrete, bricks, or rocks.

These limit values set a maximum concentration for the presence of a chemical carcinogen in the workplace air, including in the construction sector, which represents almost 70% of all workers exposed to ‘respirable crystalline silica’. In the European Commission’s view, these limit values will lead to fewer cases of occupational cancer.

Cancer has an enormous impact on workers, their families, industry and society,said Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility,With this proposal we will save 100,000 lives in the next 50 years. Protection of workers is at the core of the Commission’s commitment to a strong social Europe.

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