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EcoMafia Brings Toxic Terror To Naples

While Naples' Camorra mafia are well known for drug trafficking, experts say clandestine trade in industrial waste is their second source of revenue, begun in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s.
by Andrea Bambino
Naples (AFP) March 30, 2007
Mountains of toxic rubbish are piling up at an illegal dump outside Naples, one of many that pose a growing threat to the area's six million residents.

Organised crime syndicates cashing in on a clandestine waste business -- the "ecomafia" -- are largely to blame, greatly aided by poor monitoring of w aste disposal, according to an environmental watchdog body.

The problem reached crisis proportions years ago, dramatised by a report in the British medical journal The Lancet Oncology in 2004 that identified a "triangle of death" east of Naples where toxic waste has been linked to a higher incidence of cancer, especially liver cancer.

In 2003 some 6,000 buffalo cows were culled in nearby Caserta because their milk, used to make superior mozzarella, contained dioxin levels at least 10 times the legal EU limit.

In 2005, Italy's Higher Health Institute found a spike in the human mortality rate from cancer in the region.

The problem is exacerbated by mismanagement of waste disposal systems.

Near a municipal dump beside a road in the town of Caivano, shopping centres alternate with disused industrial hangars and unfinished buildings.

Piles of so-called "eco-balls" at the dump are anything but ecological, says Antonio Marfella, a toxicologist at Naples' cancer institute.

Urban rubbish is supposed to be sorted at the Caivano treatment centre into solid and liquid waste, then compacted into "eco-balls", which are piled into a pyramid to be safely burned.

However, Marfella said, sweeping his arm towards the Caivano dump: "These can't be incinerated because the waste wasn't sorted into solid and liquid. And if you let them decompose, they can produce a toxic liquid that can seep into the ground and enter the water table."

According to official figures, there are 400,000 tonnes of eco-balls like those at Caivano in the Naples region.

A further 500,000 tonnes of rubbish is "swept under the carpet or heaped into illegal sites" by the mafia, according to special government commissioner Guido Bertolaso.

While Naples' Camorra mafia are well known for drug trafficking, experts say clandestine trade in industrial waste is their second source of revenue, begun in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s.

Italian environmentalist Raffaele Del Giudice says the illegal business has an estimated turnover of 2.5 billion euros (3.3 billion dollars) a year.

Around Caivano, on the road crossing the provinces of Naples and Caserta, hundreds of open-air rubbish dumps can be seen, some smouldering with foul fumes, alternating with apricot and peach groves as well as greenhouses.

The dumps accumulate household waste, old refrigerators and TV sets and all manner of plastic trash.

"All of this releases dioxin, but also asbestos," Marfella said. "It's really crazy."

Criminal investigators say the Camorra pay truckers to haul industrial waste from factories in northern Italy for fees that undercut those of the legal trade. They bring it to illegal dumps in the Naples region made by blasting holes in mountainsides.

Giuseppe Comella of the Naples Cancer Institute's medical department explained: "Small industrial families are already at the mercy of Camorra racketeering. So they use the least expensive means to get rid of garbage."

Investigators complain that existing legislation lacks the necessary teeth. Dozens of probes have been opened since the crime of "illegal waste trafficking" was established in 2001, but no one has yet been convicted.

"You see a link between the presence of illegal waste and the increase over several years of cancer and genetic defects," Bertolaso said. "We don't yet have the definitive scientific proof, but the problem is real and under our noses."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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