ROME, Nov 28 (Reuters) - The Italian government will pass legislation to force a clean-up of the ILVA steel plant in the south of the country and resolve a pollution scandal that threatened to shut down the plant, Environment Minister Corrado Clini said on Wednesday.
Europe's largest steel plant has stopped production and faces permanent closure after magistrates this week seized semi-finished material and steel in an investigation into a widening environmental scandal.
The huge plant in the city of Taranto in the Puglia region has been accused of pumping out particle-laden fumes and waste. The pollution is blamed for abnormally high levels of cancer in the region. But the plant also employs some 12,000 people, and another 8,000 depend on it for their jobs.
Clini said earlier that he thought a solution would be reached in time for a meeting with company management on Thursday. He said he expected the cabinet to approve a decree putting into law a series of previously agreed clean-up measures.
"We are trying to implement what we have already decided," Clini told Canale 5 television, a day before a meeting between Prime Minister Mario Monti, unions and company management to resolve the standoff.
The two-year, 3 billion-euro clean-up programme agreed last month to secure environmental clearance for the plant should be completed without interference, Clini said. He has been battling to save the plant, putting him at odds with Taranto prosecutors.
"Cleaning up the site, laying down how the clean-up has to be carried out and how the site has to be managed to ensure that environmental and health protection standards are met are up to the government," he said. "It's not up to magistrates."
Magistrates placed the plant's blast furnaces under special administration in July. The crisis heightened when they seized the plant's output earlier this week. That led ILVA to shut down the cold-rolling section that transforms raw steel into plates and tubes.
ILVA produced 8.5 million tonnes of steel in 2011, nearly 30 percent of Italy's total output, and concern is growing about the effect of a shutdown on the rest of Italian manufacturing. Workers at an ILVA processing plant near Genoa in northern Italy say the plant will last just four days without steel from the southern plant.
Judges have also ordered the arrest of seven people, including the chairman of the company which controls ILVA, on suspicion that they bribed officials to cover up the scale of the health and environmental damage.
ILVA insists that the plant complies fully with environmental standards and denies that its operations have caused health problems. (Reporting By James Mackenzie; editing by Barry Moody, Larry King)