Camera surveillance of polluting emissions at Tata Steel may continue

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Coke gas plant 2 on the Tata Steel site
NOS NewsAmended

The surveillance cameras that monitor Tata Steel’s emissions can remain in place. This has been determined by the court in preliminary relief proceedings brought by steel manufacturer Tata Steel against the North Sea Canal Area Environmental Service. The company had argued that the cameras infringed on the privacy of its employees.

The environmental service installed the cameras in February. With the images, the regulator no longer wants to be dependent on information from Tata Steel itself. In a period of two months, this has already resulted in nine incidents. In four cases, the smoke clouds look so worrying that the regulator proceeds to further investigation. Three of those incidents were not reported by Tata Steel, the environmental service said when asked.

The lens is focused on Kooksgasfabriek 2 on the Tata Steel site in Velsen-Noord. Black clouds regularly emanate from the factory. Black, yellow or brown clouds indicate contamination that the service wants to investigate. The agency is even considering revoking the factory’s license.

To prevent the camera images from including employees of the factory, the environmental service has placed the cameras at a distance of 450 meters. In addition, the bottom of the image is shielded with a black block, so that mainly the sky can be seen.

This is how the image looks:

A still from the CCTV footage

Tata Steel did not think this was sufficient and stated that employees could still be recognizable in the picture. The judge now rules that the cameras are not aimed at people and that the chance of an infringement of the privacy of employees is “very small”.

The judge also points out that “Tata Steel’s argument shows little sense of reality and little confidence in the intentions of the environmental service”. According to the judge, it is abundantly clear that the environmental service is concerned with images of the emissions, not of the employees.

“We are pleased with the fact that we are taking another step in protecting local residents and their health,” said Mario Bakker, Director of Supervision and Enforcement of the environmental service, about the ruling.

Tata: disappointed with verdict

Tata Steel responds in writing: “We are disappointed with the verdict. Obviously we are not against surveillance, not even by means of cameras. However, our main concern was and still is to guarantee the privacy of our employees. That was our main argument to be against this camera surveillance and we still support that.”

The company calls for an even closer look at preventing the imaging of their employees, for example by asking permission from those involved. They also suggest keeping only the images “that apply to a possible emissions incident”.

Nine incidents on screen

The critical reports about Tata’s emissions are now piling up. The environmental service is also stepping up the pressure. In September, the steel manufacturer received a penalty of 100,000 euros due to the emission of harmful substances from the Kooks factories. That was already the third penalty for this violation.

The judge also takes into account the criticism of Tata Steel. He states that there is “a widespread call in society to take stronger action against the health-damaging emissions of substances of very high concern in the vicinity of Tata Steel”. It is therefore understandable that the environmental service no longer wants to depend on images from Tata Steel itself.

Previously, the environmental service depended on reports from Tata Steel itself to deal with these violations. The camera had to put an end to that. The environmental service can now keep an eye on the factory itself 24 hours a day, without having inspectors posted on the dike opposite the factory.

It is the first time that the environmental service uses cameras for surveillance. For the time being, it is still a pilot, although its duration has recently been extended. Whether this ruling paves the way for more cameras to be aimed at factories is still unclear.

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