Sep 20, 2023 at 10:32 AM Update: 5 minutes ago
It was already known in the 1970s that many carcinogenic substances were in the air in the area around Tata Steel. But a report on this from the province of North Holland and the municipality of Amsterdam quickly fell into oblivion.
NU.nl found a report in the North Holland Archives about so-called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAKs) in the North Sea Canal area. In 1975, researchers carried out measurements at ten different measuring points.
In Wijk aan Zee in particular, the concentration of paks was abnormally high: five times higher than outside the area around the Blast Furnaces, as Tata Steel was still called at the time. “With winds over the Hoogoven site, strongly increased concentrations were measured at the Wijk aan Zee and IJmuiden measuring points and slightly increased concentrations in Beverwijk, which indicate a clear influence of Hoogovens on the concentration level on site.”
Throughout the year, there were on average twenty times more paks in the air in Wijk aan Zee than is currently considered the maximum allowable. But the researchers concluded in 1977 that these measurements were not really abnormal, because the air quality in foreign industrial cities was comparable or even worse.
When the study was published, it generated little publicity. The only national newspaper that paid attention to the report was De Volkskrant. The newspaper devoted three paragraphs to it on page 6, with the comment that “it cannot be said” whether the emissions from Hoogovens are unhealthy.
Podcastserie over Tata Steel
NU.nl reporter Jeroen Kraan found the 1977 report during archive research for a podcast series about Tata Steel and the environmental history of the blast furnaces.
We will continue working on this series in the coming months. Tips? Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Factories still the most polluting parts of Tata
Yet the report shows that a lot was already known in the 1970s about the possible health damage caused by the blast furnaces. It was already known at that time that airborne paks could cause cancer.
In addition, the researchers make a direct connection with the coking factories of the Hoogovens, in which coal is processed into fuel for the steel process. The measurements “give the strong impression that both coking plants have a significant influence on the pak concentrations in the IJmond area,” the report said.
These factories, which are now very outdated, are still among the most polluting parts of Tata Steel. Local residents want them to close as quickly as possible. The North Sea Canal Area Environment Agency is even investigating whether the factories’ permits can be revoked.
Tata cleans playgrounds in the area every day
Over the past fifteen years, regular research has been conducted into the health of residents living near Tata Steel. Asbestos cancer and lung cancer occur more often than average around the factory, but it appears difficult to identify a direct link with the factory. A new report from the RIVM on that connection will be published later this week.
Previous RIVM studies already showed that the dust that settles around Tata Steel contains heavy metals and paks. Although the emissions of these substances are decreasing, according to Tata Steel, the RIVM has not yet seen any improvement in the dust measurements.
The dust poses a particular risk to children playing outside. The playgrounds in Wijk aan Zee are therefore cleaned daily by Tata Steel.
WHO: There is no safe level for suit fabrics
The amount of paks in the air at Wijk aan Zee has already fallen sharply. In 2022, the concentration of carcinogenic substances was a hundred times lower than in the measurements from 1975. However, they are still three times more common than in a control area outside the IJmond.
The World Health Organization WHO emphasizes that there is no safe level for suit fabrics, and that emissions must be reduced as much as possible.