The Netherlands : Surfrider Foundation Europe & its Netherlands Chapter file a complaint against Tata Steel for deliberate pollution

08/09/21

Wijk aan Zee appears as a charming typical Dutch village, tucked away in the Ijmond region where life could be so good. Its coast is bordered by long beaches and its powerful waves are a privileged playground for many surfers. If Wijk aan Zee seems so peaceful at a first glance, it is yet at the heart of a long-lasting battle between the inhabitants and the neighboring Tata Steel factory. This imposing industrial complex has not only disfigured the landscape but has also deeply impacted the life of the inhabitants, as well as the environment. More than 1000 entities and citizens have joint this complaint through the Frisse Wind collective, and an important debate on the future of the factory will be held at the Dutch Parliament on Thursday September 9. But how did we get to that point? 


Powerless citizens facing a deteriorating health situation

For years, many citizens of Wijk aan Zee have complained of various ailments, mainly respiratory, due to the Tata Steel industry. But far from being able to obtain improvements in their living conditions, the citizens of Wijk aan Zee have only seen the implementation of "band-aid" measures. In the village, everything gives the impression of living in an upside-down world. Perhaps the weirder fact is the daily presence of cleaning employees paid by Tata Steel who come to clean the playgrounds in the schoolyard covered with chemical dusts coming from the factory. When the wind blows in the wrong direction, some people no longer open the windows of their houses not only because of the stench, but mainly for fear of inhaling toxic products. 

Surfing in Wijk aan Zee, the second most surfed spot in the Netherlands: at what cost?

There is scientific evidence available throughout the years that Tata Steel is also releasing heavy metals and other chemical pollutants into surface water. Key actor of the protection of bathers, surfers and other watersport users, Surfrider Foundation Europe has therefore been mobilized early on the Wijk aan Zee case. Our new entity Surfrider Netherlands has received a lot of testimonials from surfers attesting to respiratory problems and to having felt sick after their surf session in the area. Some of the symptoms include nausea, itch and irritation. Therefore, our local chapter is collecting more evidence throughout this year on chemical pollution levels. 


The preoccupying official report on the health and the environment

The recent report from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) could not be clearer: Wijk aan Zee’s citizens are exposed to harmful pollutants. According to the report, health problems, like lung cancer, are far more acute near the Tata Steel factory than in other parts of the region. Lead, vanadium or manganese have been found in the air in dangerous proportions.

This report highlights a situation that the Dutch authorities know extremely well, Tata Steel being very regularly ordered to pay fines for exceeding the authorized pollution thresholds. However, what are fines worth if no radical decisions to improve quality of life is taken? Tata Steel did not seem to care and paid the penalties without batting an eyelid. Meanwhile, the authorities did not take any decisive measure against the powerful industrial group. Fortunately, other actors do not intend to let Tata Steel continue to degrade the health of the citizens, as well as the environment.

A legal action to stop willful pollution

Tired of feeling powerless, citizens and civil society organizations, including the Netherlands Chapter of Surfrider and Surfrider Foundation Europe’s Coastal Defenders Program, gathered in the Frisse Wind collective, and hired top-lawyer Bénédicte Ficq. Well known by Dutch people for bending the tobacco industry, the lawyer has just brought the case before the prosecutor accusing the steel producer "of knowingly continuing to emit carcinogens causing serious damage to health through air, soil and water". In the file, there are poignant testimonies from residents, seriously ill factory employees or former employees. We are now waiting for the prosecutor to take up the case in order to initiate concrete action to convict Tata Steel criminally, but, above all, to force those responsible to take the adequate measures to preserving the environment and the health of local residents, in accordance with national and European rules.

Find the full action on the Surfrider Coastal Defenders website

Will the upcoming parliamentary discussions bring some decisive measure?

Some discussions will be held at the Dutch Parliament on Thursday September 9, in order to determine the future of the Tata steel industrial complex. The stakes are high, so what can we expect from this public debate? The best-case scenario would be the -partial- closing of the premises. Otherwise, one could also expect the reinforcement of sustainable measures, in order to help Tata Steel transition to cleaner production processes (e.g. production of steel with hydrogen). The second option seems to be the most likely, as the Dutch public authorities did not send any strong signal on a hypothetical closing of the factory.

The Frisse Wind collective will closely follow the discussions at the Parliament, and is prepared to respond, if the outcome does not meet the seriousness of the situation. Through its local force of Coastal Defenders, Surfrider Foundation Europe is dedicated to support the citizens of Wijk aan Zee, who deserve both a decent health and a clean Ocean.


Click here to learn more on water quality issues.

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