An Italian court on Monday sentenced the former owners of the Ilva steel mill, Fabio and Nicola Riva, to 22 and 20 years in prison for emissions of gases and dust hazardous to human health.
Once the largest steelmaker in Europe, an Italian steel mill has been throwing away a deadly cocktail of carcinogenic dioxins and minerals for more than half a century, which doctors say has caused a spike in cancer in the city of Taranto.
Completing a five-year trial, the court also sentenced 24 former Ilva leaders, consultants and local politicians to prison, including the former head of the Puglia region, Niti Vendola, who received a three and a half year sentence.
All defendants are automatically entitled to two appeals before the sentence is final.
The Riva brothers denied wrongdoing, and their lawyers said they spent huge amounts of money on environmental compliance. “The Riva family has consistently invested heavily in Ilva to improve the equipment and operate in accordance with the regulations,” said attorney Luca Perrone.
The mayor of the city of Taranto Rinaldo Melucci welcomed the court's decision, saying that for many years the population was "massacred" for profit. “Today, the Italian state has recognized the suffering of Taranto, recognized the abuses committed in the name of profit,” he said in a statement.
At its peak, the Ilva steel plant produced more than 10 million tons of steel per year, but in 2012 local activists said it needed to be cleaned up or closed, arguing that the Riva family had caused an environmental disaster.
They were able to obtain a 2016 Regional Health Office findings highlighting Ilva's impact on Taranto. The report showed that lung cancer deaths were about 30% higher than normal in areas near the plant, while respiratory deaths were 50% higher than average. Ilva workers are 41% more likely to develop stomach cancer and 72% more likely to develop pleural cancer.
In 2015, the government took control of about 16,000 jobs and struck a deal to sell the ArcelorMittal plant in 2018. However, this agreement is being revised , and the state is likely to become the main shareholder, since environmental problems have not gone away, and the new owner does not want to be held responsible for violations committed by the previous administration.