When you think about the mafia and dumping, the first thing that probably comes to mind is concrete shoes. But north of Naples, the mob is doing a different kind of dumping, and Italians are starting to get fed up with it.
For decades, mobsters have been throwing their toxic waste wherever it suits them, but one area has become a magnet for a wide variety of pollutants, including, some hint, nuclear waste brought in from Germany via shipments guarded by Mafiosi dressed as military police to ensure the shipments would pass without inspection or comment. It’s possible that millions of tons of waste may have been dumped by the mob, which, needless to say, has no intention of shouldering the costs of environmental cleanup.
The waste cleanup racket is a good business, it turns out: companies with toxic waste they need to discard can contact the mafia to have it removed at a fraction of the cost they’d have to pay for ethical disposal.
While the public might have noticed the mounds of garbage, a whistleblower from within the mafia revealed the whole scope of the problem in the late 1990s, according to German publication Der Spiegel, and it’s what happened next that’s interesting. After showing government representatives some key dumping sites and expressing concerns about the toxins present because he was worried about the possibility of people developing cancer, birth defects, and other health problems, the whistleblower expected some government action. Waste mitigation can take years and often decades, and sometimes initial movement is slow, but in this case, it was undetectable.
Because nothing was happening. Despite being aware of the growing toxic waste problem, politicians in Naples and the surrounding regions took no steps to address it, thanks to a web of government corruption that ensured they’d continue to turn their heads the other way. Even when this involved ignoring the fact that the mafia was polluting their communities and causing long-term health problems for residents, officials seemed willing to pay the price in exchange for maintaining a good relationship with the infamous Italian crime families.
Notably, many of the same officials who were notified about the problem in the 1990s have since risen through the Italian political ranks to achieve high positions, such as Alessandro Pansa, now head of the Italian State Police, then head of the mobile police units. Meanwhile, the region at the flanks of Mount Vesuvius once known for being a rich and fertile plain (as is common at the foot of a volcano) is now a toxic mire, with numerous medical publications providing evidence that clusters of cancers, birth defects, tumors and other illnesses can be definitively linked with drinking water from Naples or living in the region around the dump sites.
Shockingly, “much of the produce from the region is still considered to be uncontaminated and there are several harvests per year. Yet there are still days when even upright men such as General Sergio Costa from the national forest service have the feeling they are looking through the ‘gates of Hell:’ on the day in November, for example, when he and his men dug up barrels of toxic waste from beneath cauliflower fields in Caivano. The plastic gloves some of the officers were using to handle the waste dissolved on contact.”
Italians are starting to become frustrated with the lack of movement on the situation, which is growing more apparent each year as the pollution grows and compounds itself. Many feel powerless in the face of government corruption and the mafia’s hold on the region, however, making it difficult for them to organize around the subject and fight for better conditions and decisive action on the government. Without extensive interventions, many more Italians will get sick, along with a large population of Roma that lives on the verge of what may be Europe’s most toxic dump.
Sounds like it might be time for the Italian government to take out the trash.
Photo credit: AmsterSam the Wicked Reflectah.