Europe’s largest steel mill is in the city of Taranto in southern Italy. In its heyday, the ILVA steel plant produced more than 10 million tons of steel every year—about 40 percent of all the steel made in Italy—and it currently employs about 12,000 people.
This is no small deal in an area where unemployment is north of 20 percent; indeed, the local economy of Taranto, population 200,000, is almost entirely dependent on the steel mill—which is also one of the biggest and most deadly polluters of anywhere in the Mediterranean.
The plant is a notorious source of dioxin, and dust from the plant is believed to be the reason why Taranto has a lung cancer rate 30 percent higher than the national average. It’s so toxic that farmers have been forbidden from raising livestock within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant; in 2008, the government ordered the slaughter of thousands of sheep and other animals that were found to have excessively high levels of dioxin.
The mill is also debatably hurting the local economy; the area has a mix of nice beaches and pastoral farmland that would make it attractive to tourists, if it weren’t for the deadly steel mill.
What to do about this?
The mill is currently under government control, after saga straight out of John Grisham: Health officials ordered the mill partially shut down, a move blocked by government authorities; police partially occupied the plant as part of a criminal investigation, and its owners were ultimately arrested and jailed for committing “environmental disaster,” a serious crime in Italy. Meanwhile, the steel mill is still open, though producing much less steel (and hopefully less cancer).
But for the farmers who raised sheep and made ricotta cheese for generations in the area where the steel mill was built in the 1960s, the factory may as well be going full-blast.