Tata Steel emissions cut lifespan of area residents by 2.5 months, says health institute
Residents living in the region around Tata Steel have an increased risk of becoming ill due to emissions from the steel factory site. On average, emissions shorten the life expectancy of nearby Wijk aan Zee residents by 2.5 months, said Dutch public health institute RIVM on Friday in a report.
On behalf of the government, the RIVM examined how often local residents come into contact with substances emitted from the Tata Steel factory site. This concerned particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. Researchers also took into account the nuisance that Tata Steel causes local residents, such as when dust that originates from the site.
The emissions of particulate matter and PAHs from the factory site increase the risk of lung cancer, the RIVM calculated based on that data. This effect is greatest in Wijk aan Zee. The village is part of the IJmond region in Noord-Holland, and a short distance from the factory site in Velsen.
There, approximately four percent of new lung cancer cases can be attributed to particulate matter emissions from the factory complex. This decreases as people live greater distances from Tata Steel. Nitrogen dioxide increases the risk of asthma in children. An estimated three percent of all future cases of asthma in children will be the result of emissions from Tata Steel, the RIVM said.
At the same time, the measured quantities of substances in the air do not exceed the legal limit at any location where measurements were made. But there are also risks to health even below those legal standards, according to the World Health Organization.
Researcher Leendert Gooijer from the RIVM said it was particularly striking that the local residents are so greatly affected by by stench, noise and dust. Roughly 80 percent of Wijk aan Zee residents have to deal with this, and insomnia is also common. Such nuisance can be linked to nausea, stress and cardiovascular disease, the RIVM pointed out.
The research focuses on the influence that current emission levels will have on the health of local residents in the future. According to Gooijer, it is quite possible that the health damage attributable to Tata Steel was even worse earlier this century, when emissions were greater. There is also a question mark as to whether the accumulation of emissions of various substances entails an additional health risk, and how great that potential effect could be.
After the first dust measurement were taken in 2020, the RIVM warned that young children were being exposed to concentrations of lead and heavy metals that are "undesirably" high for their health. The health institute has said in the past that it is clear that Tata Steel is an "important source" of harmful emissions, but Friday's report gave more clarity both regarding the damage caused, and the extent to which the harmful substances in the environment come from the steel factory.
A report from 1977 that received a great deal of attention last week also made it clear that the concentrations of PAHs measured around the steel company were already too high nearly a half-century ago.
Tata Steel "affected" by the study's results
Tata Steel said it was "affected" by the results of the RIVM's research. "We have been associated with IJmond for years; We know that people in the area are concerned about the impact of our company on their health, and we are concerned about that," said Ruth van Moesdijk, who is responsible for health and environmental issue. "That is precisely why the RIVM findings affect us."
In an initial response to the report, she also pointed to Tata Steel's improvement program to limit emissions of several substances. The steel factory expects to reduce emissions of heavy metals and particulate matter by the end of this year. This is done with extraction installations at the blast furnaces and the steel factory and a de-dusting installation at the pellet plant. By 2025, an installation at the pellet plant must also ensure fewer nitrogen emissions.
"The legal and social standards for companies like Tata Steel have changed over the years and will continue to change. And our company is changing with it. The report shows that our emissions meet legal limits," Tata Steel said.
Cabinet: Unacceptable that people live with unnecessary risks
The Dutch government finds it unacceptable that people run unnecessary health risks due to emissions from the Tata Steel site, said State Secretary for Infrastructure Vivianne Heijnen after the regular weekly Cabinet meeting on Friday. “And that means that we as a government feel a duty of care,” she added.
She said that she can imagine that people will be shocked by this. The state secretary did point out that there have been many improvements made when compared to decades past. "And that of course requires follow-up actions," she said.
Heijnen mentioned that an expert group has been commissioned to "specifically look at the situation surrounding Tata Steel. How we can improve health there."