Tata Steel residents are threatening to file a lawsuit against the province of North Holland if it does not collect more fines from the steel manufacturer. According to local residents’ group Frisse Wind, the current ban on harmful emissions at the company’s coke plants is not adequately enforced.
In these coke plants, coal is processed into coke, an important fuel for the steel process. Coal is baked in ovens at very high temperatures, but if something goes wrong, “undercooked coke” can occur. Harmful substances are then released when the coke oven is emptied.
The occurrence of undercooked coke already carries a penalty of €100,000 each time. Last year, Tata Steel had to pay three times that amount, and the North Sea Canal Zone Environmental Agency is investigating two other incidents. The company had previously paid fifteen penalty payments of €10,000 and twenty penalty payments of €25,000 for the same violation.
Undercooked boils are now less common, according to the regulator. But locals say they regularly see, on their own camera images, clouds of black smoke seeping out when coke ovens are emptied.
Frisse Wind Foundation board member Jaap Finicker says undercooking is suspected in sixteen incidents. Local residents also reported these incidents to the Environment Department. “We see these incidents on cameras, we study them,” says Finker. “We don’t just report them.” But according to him, the Environment Department is not doing enough in this regard. “Then you hear: ‘We’re investigating it,’ or ‘No response at all.’”
That’s why local residents are now filing a collection request with the county. If they don’t collect additional penalty payments, they will go to court. “This is where things will end,” predicts Finker, who has already hired a lawyer with Greenpeace.
Supervisor says dust causes smoke
The Environment Agency says it investigates all emissions reports. Supervisors then look at images from their camera targeting a coke plant and request measurement data from Tata Steel itself. According to the Environment Agency, this often shows that there is no doubt about the presence of undercooked coke.
For example, it may be dust that ignites and causes black smoke, the regulatory body recently wrote on its website. It remains unclear whether this is permitted under the permit. But in any case, no penalty can be imposed, according to the Environment Agency.
Finker calls this “ammehoelasmoesen”. He refers to the Environment Agency’s earlier description of prohibited emissions when the penalty was imposed on Tata Steel. This concerned coke “which causes black smoke to a greater or lesser extent,” the Environment Service wrote at the time.
“They don’t have the capacity”
Local residents fear that the environment department cannot cope with the large number of accidents at Tata Steel. “We see from all sides that they don’t have the capacity,” says Sunny Valfisch of Frisse Wind in a podcast interview. Tata’s iron fist. “It’s about manpower, but also about their system.”
“They don’t have the data to view their camera correctly, because it’s on 4G,” Walfish says. Due to the relatively slow mobile phone connection, playing back images at high speed takes a long time. That’s why, she says, the Environment Agency still relies in part on photos of locals on YouTube.
The Environment Agency contradicts this. He does not face “any technical obstacle” when displaying the images, according to the official spokesman. According to her, capacity is not an issue either. “Additional capacity has been provided to oversee and implement these types of photo reports.”
“Environmental service is a lap dog.”
According to Alfisch, Frisse Wind previously had agreements with environmental service personnel about reviewing images and reporting incidents. But the personnel involved suddenly left the service, and then there was radio silence.
“We don’t get any responses to views, we don’t get any responses to enforcement requests, we don’t even get any responses to notices of default,” Walfish says. “The environmental service in the Netherlands – which applies here in Eigmond, but applies to all environmental services – is just a lap dog.”
A Tata Steel spokesperson says there are now “significantly fewer” cases of undercooked coke than in previous years. “A person can come to their own conclusion based on a camera image and report back, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.”
Avid music fanatic. Communicator. Social media expert. Award-winning bacon scholar. Alcohol fan.