Italian steel plant to close amid health scandal

Last Updated: Mon, Nov 26, 2012 21:15 hrs

A steel plant in southern Italy at the center of an environmental scandal announced Monday that it plans to close after police acting on prosecutors' warrants sequestered recent steel products bound for the market.

Any closure would be a blow to the Italian government, which has been working to keep the Ilva steel plant operating while addressing health concerns amid reports of an elevated incidence of cancer in the area.

Premier Mario Monti has called a meeting with company executives on Thursday to discuss the situation.

The Ilva steel plant said in a statement that the seizure was contrary to government authorization to continue operations while it addresses health and environmental concerns. Ilva said the move would make it impossible to sell its products, leading to the "immediate and unavoidable" closure of the plant in Taranto and related facilities.

Along with the seizures of thousands of steel sheets and coils at Taranto port, police also arrested seven people, including company officials, on suspicion of bribing officials to play down health concerns.

The plant's operators have said toxic fumes have been reduced, and the Environment Ministry has been overseeing efforts to clean up the plant and assess health risks.

The announcement didn't say exactly when the plant would close, and the FIOM union urged its workers to stay on the job. The Ilva plant employs nearly 12,000 and is the mainstay of the economy in Taranto province.

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