ECHR judgment of January 24, 2019 in the case of Cordella and Others v. Italy (applications N 54414/13, 54264/15).
In 2013 and 2015, the applicants were assisted in preparing applications. Subsequently, the applications were consolidated and communicated by Italy.
The case has successfully examined complaints about the lack of response of the respondent Government to air pollution by a steel mill to the detriment of the health of the population living nearby. The case contained a violation of Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Circumstances of the case
The present case concerns continuous air pollution from a steel mill operating since 1965 in Tarente with a population of about 200,000. The plant was previously a state-owned enterprise privatized in 1995. In 1990, the Council of Ministers recognized Mr. Tarente and four neighboring communes at "high environmental risk" due to emissions from the plant. In 1998, the president of the republic approved an air purification plan. In 2000, by decree of the ministries of the commune, Tarente and Statte were included in the list of "localities of interest in terms of improving sanitation." Agreements were concluded between the enterprise and the authorities. In 2011, the company was issued instructions of a material and informational nature in the framework of obtaining an administrative permit for operation. Several legislative decrees aimed at preserving the steelmaking activity in Tarente, adopted in 2012, extended the deadlines. In 2015, due to the bankruptcy of the enterprise, an interim management procedure was introduced with respect to it, with the exception of the administrative or criminal liability of the manager in the implementation of the planned environmental protection measures. Meanwhile, the authorities of the European Union (the Court and the Commission) concluded that the Italian authorities had violated their obligation to guarantee compliance with the relevant directives. In addition, various civil or criminal cases have been instituted, but harmful emissions continue.
The applicants, several dozen individuals living or residing more or less close to the plant, complained about the lack of action by the state to prevent the health effects of the plant from harmful emissions.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
Regarding compliance with article 8 of the Convention. Despite the fact that the Court did not have to determine precisely the measures that should have been taken in the present case in order to effectively reduce the level of pollution, it would undoubtedly have to decide whether the Italian authorities considered the matter with due diligence and whether they take into account all competing interests. The Italian authorities needed to provide accurate and detailed justifications for a situation where some individuals were forced to bear a heavy burden in the name of public interest.
Since the 1970s, research (mainly conducted by state and regional organizations) has shown air pollution and damage to human health due to emissions from the Tarente plant. These studies confirm the existence of a causal relationship between exposure to inhaled substances contained in plant emissions and the development of various tumors or cardiovascular pathologies (2012 study) or increased mortality due to natural causes due to tumors, kidney and cardiovascular diseases diseases (2016 study) among residents of affected areas. The 2017 study noted the ongoing critical sanitary situation in the communes identified as a high-risk zone for the environment (while in the city of Tarente, the number of relevant pathologies, mortality and hospitalizations exceeded the average for the region).
Attempts by the Italian authorities to achieve air purification in the region to date have not produced the expected results. The measures recommended since 2012 as part of the administrative authorization of the activity were not taken as a result (which led to proceedings in the bodies of the European Union). In addition, the implementation of the environmental protection plan, approved in 2014, was delayed until August 2023. Thus, it takes too much time to achieve your stated air cleaning goals.
Meanwhile, the Italian authorities took urgent measures several times (by issuing special laws and regulations) to guarantee the continuation of steelmaking activities, despite the conclusion of the respondent state courts based on the results of chemical and epidemiological examinations that there are serious risks to human health and the environment Wednesday. Moreover, persons called upon to guarantee compliance with environmental regulations (interim manager and future owner of the enterprise) were granted immunity from administrative and criminal liability. To the above was added a situation of uncertainty resulting from, on the one hand, the bankruptcy of the enterprise and, on the other hand, the opportunity provided to the future owner to postpone the implementation of air cleaning measures.
Thus, it follows from the materials of the case that, in the part concerning the actions of the authorities, the management of environmental issues arising from the operation of the plant in Tarente has come to a standstill today. Consequently, environmental pollution continues, threatening the health of applicants and, in a more general context, the entire population living in risk zones and deprived in the current situation of information on the progress of cleaning this territory, in particular, the timing of the relevant work. On the whole, the Italian authorities did not take all necessary measures to ensure the effective protection of the applicants' right to respect for their personal lives, which led to an imbalance of interests.
In the case there was a violation of the requirements of Article 8 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
Regarding the application of Article 46 of the Convention. Taking into account, in particular, the technical complexity of the measures necessary to clean the relevant area, which fall under the competence of the Italian authorities, there is no need to resort to the “pilot ruling” procedure. The Court should not give the respondent Government specific recommendations of a prescriptive content as indicated by the applicants: the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will propose measures to enforce this judgment to the Italian authorities. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the work on cleaning the plant and the territory affected by environmental pollution is of paramount importance and urgency. The environmental protection plan, approved by the Italian authorities and indicating the measures and actions necessary to ensure environmental protection and the protection of public health, should be implemented as soon as possible.
The Court has also found a violation of Article 13 of the Convention in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
In application of Article 41 of the Convention. The Court decided that finding a violation of the Convention would constitute sufficient just satisfaction in respect of non-pecuniary damage.