BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission has told Italy to tackle toxic emissions at the Ilva steel plant which is the subject of a high-profile environmental investigation, or face potential fines.
Ilva, which runs Europe's biggest steel plant in the southern Italian city of Taranto, has embarked on a two-year clean-up operation after prosecutors alleged that toxic emissions had caused abnormally high levels of cancer and respiratory illness in the region.
"The European Commission is taking action against Italy in an effort to reduce the environmental impact of the Ilva steel plant in Taranto," it said in a statement.
"Following a number of complaints from citizens and NGOs, the Commission has found that Italy is failing to ensure that Ilva complies with EU requirements on industrial emissions, with serious consequences for human health and the environment."
Italy has two months to respond to the Commission's formal notice letter.
The move is the first part of a lengthy procedure that could lead to fines should Italy fail to meet EU demands.
The Commission said that laboratory tests showed heavy pollution of air, soil, surface and ground waters, both on the Ilva site and nearby residential areas of Taranto, the southern Italian city where the plant is based.
While it acknowledged the commitments recently made by the Italian authorities, the Commission has called on Italy to comply with its obligations under EU environmental directives.
Ilva has repeatedly said the plant complied with environmental standards and denied its operations were responsible for any health problems.
In June the Italian government appointed a special commissioner to run the troubled plant, which accounts for 40 percent of the country's overall steel output, and oversee cleanup operations.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels and Massimiliano di Giorgio in Rome; Writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Greg Mahlich)