The International Trade Commission ruled yesterday that most of the European steel imports covered under complaints filed by the U.S. steel industry may have caused domestic injury.

The commissioners voted to accept only 38 of the 92 complaints filed by seven major U.S. steel companies, but those complaints cover 85 percent of the value of goods covered under the complaints, or $1.26 billion in steel imports, and 89 percent of the import tonnage in the complaints, or 3.5 million tons.

U.S. steel makers have charged the foreign countries with dumping, that is, injuring them by selling steel here at less than its fair value, and hurting them by receiving government subsidies for steel exports to the United States.

The vote by the commission yesterday means that the cases accepted showed a reasonable indication that they are materially injuring the domestic steel industry. Material injury means the industry shows signs of ill health in production, shipments, employment, profitability, return on investment and the ability to invest in new equipment, caused by imports, ITC Chairman Bill Alberger said.

The cases now go to the Commerce Department, which must determine between April and June whether the imports were sold here at less than their fair value or were subsidized. The cases then will be returned to the ITC for a final injury test. The investigations could continue until next fall.

All of the countries investigated had at least one case against them accepted by the ITC.

In few cases was the voting unanimous, and the commissioners showed divisiveness before and after the lengthy votes on each case. Commissioner Eugene J. Frank, a former steel industry analyst, voted to pursue all 92 cases because he claimed the commission didn't have enough information to eliminate some cases that may become problems later.

"This industry does have significant problems, and they're not all going to be resolved by shutting the door on imports," Alberger said after the vote. However, the ITC chairman said he isn't discounting imports as a problem and noted that, although the commission accepted only 38 cases, it is still nine more than the commission accepted two years ago when U.S. Steel Corp. filed complaints against seven European countries. Those complaints later were withdrawn.

"Imports are part of the problem," Alberger continued. "That's why we continued 38 cases."

Commissioner Michael J. Calhoun said stopping imports is a solution "that will not significantly address the underlying and significant problems this industry faces." He told reporters later that "structural problems are much more significant and deserve more attention." Those problems include rationalization of labor costs, and greater and more prudent use of capital investments. "People pursuing imports as a solution to the steel industry's problems are doing the steel industry a disservice," Calhoun said.

The commissioners accepted only one of six cases against Brazil, six of 13 against Belgium, six of 14 against France, four of 12 against Italy, two of 11 against Luxembourg, four of eight against the Netherlands, the only case against Romania, six of 13 against the United Kingdom and eight of 14 against West Germany.