ILVA boss in row over blaming smoking for cancer rates

Bondi retracts but controversy remains

ILVA boss in row over blaming smoking for cancer rates

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, July 15 - The government-appointed commissioner of steel group ILVA's troubled plant in Taranto sparked a furore Monday by suggesting high cancer rates in the southern Italian city were due to residents' excessive smoking rather than the pollution the factory has been belching into the local air for decades. Cancer rates around the steel plant in Puglia, which is accused of causing an environmental disaster, have been shown to be 15% above the national average, rising to 30% for lung cancer. Enrico Bondi, a turnaround guru picked to guide Europe's biggest steel plant through a government-ordered clean-up and retooling to save jobs at the city's largest employer, was quoted in the Italian press at the weekend as saying that the high rate of tumours in Taranto were "the fault of cigarettes, whose use was above average in the city in the 1970s". Bondi further claimed that "rates have been falling since then," an assertion that was rejected by medical experts called to assess the health of residents. Bondi's statements spurred a widening row which included a call from Puglia Governor Nichi Vendola that he should "resign because of these ill-informed and frankly insulting claims, a slap in the face for all those who have been hit by cancer in Taranto". Italian environmental group Legambiente also called on Bondi to go, saying he had "insulted the intelligence of all Italians". Green Leader Angelo Bonelli said Bondi "cannot be ILVA commissioner one second longer". After being summoned for "clarification" by Italian Environment Minister Andrea Orlando, Bondi issued a statement denying he had ever linked the tumour rate to tobacco consumption. "I never said nor wrote that tobacco causes more harm than ILVA's emissions," Bondi said. "The polluting emissions from the plant, according to scientific investigations and reviews submitted to judges, have also had a significant health impact," he said. But Orlando, who is also set to choose three new experts to oversee clean-up and rehabilitation of the plant, did not revoke his call for Bondi to give him an explanation for his reported remarks. The ILVA plant has faced enormous problems in the past year and the Italian government appointed Bondi first as new CEO and then special commissioner to oversee a comprehensive revamp. The factory has been at the centre of a political and legal battle since last July when local magistrates ordered its partial closure due to serious health concerns. The Riva group, which controls ILVA and its Taranto plant, is the biggest iron and steel producer in Italy, the fourth-biggest in Europe and the 23rd-biggest in the world. Earlier this month, prosecutors asked the courts to indict Emilio Riva, ILVA's former head, on charges of massive tax fraud. Milan prosecutor Francesco Greco accused Riva, and two other former executives of the steelmaker, of evading 52 million euros in taxes dating back to 2007. A London-based executive with Deutsche Bank was also named by the prosecution for assisting in the alleged fraud. Emilio and Adriano Riva, owners of the Riva group, have been under investigation for fraud against the State and fake money transfers. Some 1.2 billion euros transferred out of Italy by the Rivas were previously confiscated. In January, ILVA executive Fabio Riva, another family member, was arrested in London after two months on the run. Taranto prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant for Fabio Riva last December saying that he was sought as part of a criminal probe into the environmental scandal at the facility. Corporate troubleshooter Bondi, 78, was appoojnted commissioner on June 4 with sweeping powers for three years to save the plant's 20,000 jobs while stopping its pollution. The proceeds of a court-ordered 8,000-euro seizure of products will help fund the turnaround, Premier Enrico Letta has said. Bondi made his name by restructuring chemicals giant Montedison after a big scandal in the 1990s before reviving dairy group Parmalat after Europe's largest-ever fraudulent bankruptcy in 2003. Before being appointed ILVA CEO in mid-April, he was the spending-cuts czar in the previous government led by technocrat Mario Monti.

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