Mon, Dec 23, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Mafia toxic waste dumping poisons Italy farmlands

Italians are proud of the quality of their food and healthy nature of their diet, but an alleged organized crime practice of indiscriminately dumping industrial waste may have contaminated farmland for generations

BY Frances D’emilio  /  AP, CAIVANO, Italy

Camorristi “poisoned their own territory, they poisoned their own blood,” said Costa, the Naples environmental police force head.

According to a nationwide environmentalist group, Legambiente, Camorra mobsters since 1991 have systematically dumped, burned or buried nearly 10 million tonnes of waste, almost all of it coming from factories that either do not seek to know where the waste ends up, or are complicit in the crimes.

According to evidence used in trials, the waste contained PCBs, asbestos, industrial sludge and metal drums filled with dangerous solvents used to make paint.

“How could this all happen?” Michele Buonomo, Legambiente’s Naples-area president, said in an interview.

Franco Roberti, Italy’s top organized crime fighter, offers an explanation.

It was not just the Camorra profiting off the waste racket, he said in an AP interview: In Italy’s industrial north, factories and processing plants saved at least half the cost of the going rate of legitimate waste disposal or detoxification.

Companies falsified documentation identifying the waste’s content, the national anti-mafia prosecutor said. In the Camorra’s power base, he added, town officials, dump operators or farmers with vacant land closed an eye for their own payoff.

Roberti said the first Camorra turncoat to reveal the business of waste trafficking told him in interrogations that “monnezza” — Neapolitan for garbage — was, in effect, worth its weight in gold.

Investigators’ first big break came in 2007, nearly 20 years after the mobsters started trafficking in wastes. Turncoat Gaetano Vassallo, from the Casalesi clan, gave prosecutors a “very complete picture” about the racket, Roberti recalled.

He told them where waste had been dumped and buried. And he indicated which companies, mainly in Italy’s north, were turning to the Camorra to cart away waste.

Vassallo’s tips were borne out when investigators, using backhoes and shovels, dug into the sprawling Giugliano dump. Exhaustive analyses of soil samples by a geologist in a two-year study, whose results were made public this fall, found many of the cancer-causing or otherwise harmful substances exactly where the turncoat said Bidognetti had them dumped over several years.

Some of the waste trafficked by Bidognetti allegedly came from a major dye-manufacturing plant in the northwest Piedmont region, which was eventually shut down after Piedmont residents grew alarmed when local rivers were colored with the factory’s runoff.

Geologist Giovanni Balestri’s study — commissioned by Naples-based anti-mafia prosecutors — of soil and aquifers contaminated by the dump, found a laundry lists of substances similar to those discovered around the Caivano farms: Chromium, lead, nickel, sulfates, toluene and other substances — all in concentrations higher than, often far exceeding, permissible levels.

Costa said the vegetables irrigated by water from contaminated wells was destined for local markets, not supermarkets — whose strict quality standards, backed up by spot-checks, would virtually eliminate the possibility of any tainted produce from reaching tables beyond the Camorra’s backyard.

Italy’s agriculture minister last month hastened to assure consumers that testing of the produce is continuing “non-stop.”

Nunzia De Girolamo was referring to a strategy devised by Costa: Since much of the waste seeps down to aquifers, which feed irrigation wells, his squad is analyzing the water of each well supplied by the contaminated aquifers, a painstaking process that started this year and will take several more months to complete.

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