In pictures: Italy’s waste crisis drags on

Half a decade after the Naples’ impasse hit headlines, communities and nature are suffering potentially toxic effects.

Naples, Italy – The once-pretty commune of Terzigno, a small town near Naples, has recently been described by its residents as “the rubbish dump of Italy”.

Sitting in the middle of the Vesuvius National Park – itself placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997 – it hosts two of the largest quarries in the country.

The Naples waste management crisis has been ongoing for some decades, peaking in 2008 amid reports that the Camorra, a mafia-type organised crime syndicate, had been responsible for dumping – and burning – huge quantities of heavy metals, industrial and chemical waste along the sides of the region’s rural roads.

Yet after then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlsuconi mobilised the country’s military to remove the refuse, under agreement that it would be disposed of in incinerators in Hamburg, Germany, the issue largely fell off the international news agenda.

In Terzigno, however, the problem, and the piles of trash, have been growing ever since.

The town’s Cava Sari quarry was designated as a landfill site, and by the beginning of 2011, it had been competely filled – with 740,000 tons of rubbish, according to ARPAC [It.], Campania’s regional agency for envronmental protection.

The Italian government at that time promised to close the quarry and clear up the area – yet in December, officials released a document stating that a further 50,000 tons would be dumped there – adding an extra 4m height to a 750,000 cubic metre body, already 239m deep.

Chemist Michele Moscariello wrote in an official report that there had been no proper monitoring of the dumping grounds – indeed, the levels of percolato [“leachate”], the toxic liquid released by decomposing rubbish, has never been checked, he said.

What’s more, there is no way yet to predict how long it will take for the dumped waste to decompose. Lorenzo De Napoli, professor of chemical science at the University of Naples, said that it takes one more than one year for a single cigarette filter to rot away – while plastic fast food cartons can take up to 300 years each.

Residents have complained – even rioted – over what they see as not just environmental pollution, but an imminent health threat. As these photos show, the facilities have been neglected over the years.

Protective material meant to seal the waste above ground has broken down, allowing seepage of potentially toxic decomposing materials into the earth. If such chemicals permeate far enough, the water table will also be poisoned.

Terzigno mayor Domenico Aurichhio said that the latest mandate for a further 50,000 tons of waste was simply beyond the pale.

“This time is enough for a town like Terzigno…” he said. “This time I’m ready to hit the streets with the citizens.”

While the quarry is in the middle of a national park, in which construction is prohibited, a special road was built to help deliver the rubbish [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


Domestic and industrial waste is often simply piled high next to the street in Terzigno [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


The national park, home to the famed Mount Vesuvius, was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997 [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


The ashes of nightly fires, set ablaze to get rid of the piles of rubbish lining the streets, are visible throughout the area [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


The scale of the dumping ground is vast, a small dipped crater indicating that the now grassed-over quarry has been all but filled [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


An entire artificial lake of ‘percolato‘, potentially toxic leachate resulting from biological and chemical processes within the rotting waste [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


This high-density polyethylene cloth was supposed to isolate the decomposing rubbish from the ground beneath in order to avoid seepages of toxic substances, but it is breaking up, and is no longer protecting the earth [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


The damaged HDPE cloth in Cava Sari is exposing the land to the decomposing rubbish dumped on top [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


Homes that were being built before the park was designated a UNESCO site were abandoned with the rising pollution rate of the quarry [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


Rubbish dumped in the quarries must be sealed in ‘ecoballs’ in order for them to be gathered later and sent to an incinerator – yet here, in Cava Ranieri, Terzigno’s second quarry, the ‘ecoballs’ have never been picked up –  so the encasing material has worn out, leading simply to more open air piles of refuse [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


Remnants of fibre cement are scattered, as is asbestos material, which both have strict European laws governing their correct disposal [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


A machine piles up rubbish in Cava Sari, while clouds of vapour from the rotting material rise behind it [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


Throughout the national park, the decomposing rubbish leaves pools of potentially toxic run-off [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


The lake of rotting trash sitting atop Cava Sari is the largest in the area [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


Gas built up in the subterranean strata of rotting rubbish is piped to the surface and released through these small chimneys [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]


A sign in Vesuvius National Park reads ‘poisoned fields’, due to the material being released and which is seeping into the ground [Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo/Al Jazeera]

Follow Mariagrazia Petito Di Leo on Twitter: @Uchria

Source: Al Jazeera

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