Health board GGD was right to scrap the name of Tata Steel from a report which showed a 25% higher incidence of lung cancer in the Haarlem and IJmond region, former council ombudsman Peter Heskes has concluded.
Heskes was appointed by safety region Kennemerland to head an inquiry into how the controversial report had been put together, following revelations by local paper Noord Hollands Dagblad that initial versions did mention Tata Steel.
The decision to remove the name from the final report made by GGD director Bert van de Velden was the right one, Heskes said, ‘because this was an investigation into the incidence and the prevention of cancer, not a probe into the possible cause’.
Mentioning Tata Steel could also have had legal repercussions, Heskes told broadcaster NOS. ‘I get that as a [GGD] director you would want to avoid being sued by the company.’
Although Tata Steel was allowed to see the report a day before its publication, Heskes does not believe the GGD succumbed to undue influence. ‘All the research results are there, nothing was changed,’ Heskes said.
Locals have for years campaigned against the steel giant, which they claim has been dumping dangerous chemicals into the air and soil of a densely populated area. The GGD did leave itself open to their anger, Heskes said.
‘This investigation was not an answer to the questions people were asking, he said. ‘Any conclusion was bound to come as a disappointment.’
‘This demonstrates that big polluters will never be held accountable,’ Ellen Windemuth of the IJmondig action group told the broadcaster.
‘We have seen the same with the RIVM. They also said they had no mandate to look into the origin of the pollution. And now this gentleman is saying the same about the GGD and the cause of the extra cancer cases here. I say to them: it is your job to stand up for the health of local people.’
Heskes said a discussion between locals, industry and the government about the conditions in which base metal industry can be allowed to exist in an urban area was the only way out of the problem. ’The government must take the lead,’ he said.
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