THE HAGUE (AFP) - Dutch prosecutors opened a criminal probe on Wednesday (Feb 2) into "intentional and unlawful" pollution by steel giant Tata at a plant near Amsterdam, saying the public's health could potentially be in danger.
The massive plant at the mouth of the IJ river has come under increasing fire from residents and the health authorities, who accuse it of being the main source of air, soil and water pollution in the area and of causing illness.
"The public prosecutor's office has informed Tata Steel... that it has opened a criminal probe into the intentional and unlawful introduction of hazardous substances into the air, soil and surface water," it said in a statement.
"This could potentially place the public's health in danger," the prosecutor's office said, adding it was also probing Harsco Metals, which also operated on Tata Steel's premises.
Prosecutors decided to open the investigation following charges laid in May last year by a lawyer representing at least 800 plaintiffs.
"At the end of the investigation an announcement will follow whether the Tata inquiry will lead to prosecutions," the statement said.
The criminal probe is the latest in the saga around Tata Steel, which directly employs some 9,000 workers - many who live nearby - and is a major player in the Dutch economy.
Two weeks ago, the country's National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) released a report which confirmed Tata was the main source for the PAH air pollutants and metal pollution in the IJmuiden region.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are ubiquitous environmental pollutants, generated primarily during the incomplete burning of organic materials like coal, oil and gas, according the Centres for Disease Control.
Long term exposure could lead to various forms of cancer, among other health effects.
The Dutch emission authorities have also identified the massive Tata steelworks as one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) gasses in the country.
The RIVM's inquiry showed residents around the factory suffered more from acute health issues including headaches and nausea than elsewhere in the Netherlands.
Heart disease, diabetes and lung cancer were also more frequent, the Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported.
Tata Steel in reaction said it would cooperate with the public prosecution's investigation.
"Tata Steel is looking forward to the outcome of the investigation with confidence... and is aware of its responsibility towards the environment," it said.
First founded in 1918 as the Royal Dutch Blast Furnaces, Indian giant Tata took over the plant in 2007.