ROME, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Italy’s environment ministry on Friday gave steelmaker ILVA authorisation to keep running its factory in southern Italy as long as it complies with strict conditions to reduce emissions and clean up the plant.
The factory, the largest steelworks in Europe, began a partial shutdown this month after a court ordered it to close following a series of environmental reports that said its pollution was causing above-average cancer rates and respiratory diseases in the surrounding area.
It was not yet clear whether the ministry’s permit would override the court’s orders. Court-appointed officials have taken over management of a large part of the factory in Taranto to oversee its clean-up.
Turning off the plant’s huge blast furnaces means a long-term shutdown of the site and pose a risk the shutdown could become permanent.
On Friday, ILVA said it intended to adopt the ministry’s strictest requirements and that the plant would remain running as it works to implement a new industrial plan.
“The group intends to keep on working and will not shirk its responsibilities to do business, to defend thousands of jobs and the economy of the country,” the company said.
The court’s plan sparked a series of protests by labour unions, which said a pause in production would put the future of the factory in doubt and risk jobs in a region already suffering above-average unemployment, creating a headache for the government of Prime Minister Mario Monti.
ILVA employs 12,000 workers directly, and another 8,000 people are indirectly employed by the sprawling site located in the heel of Italy’s boot. It accounts for more than a third of Italy’s total steel output, the second-biggest producer in Europe after Germany.
The government permit includes a requirement for ILVA to comply early with European Union regulation on cleaner steel production due to come into force in 2016, a statement from the ministry said.
It is also conditional on the company’s adhering to regional regulation on reducing emissions of dioxin and other polluting chemicals at the factory.
The ministry has provided a schedule of measures to adopt urgently within the next three months and up to the end of 2014. (Reporting By Catherine Hornby; editing by Jane Baird)