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‘Triangle of Death:’ Italy sends army to Mafia toxic waste dump

Published time: April 02, 2014 18:36
A mother carries her child through uncollected garbage on their way back from school in the historic Spanish district of Naples (AFP Photo / Roberto Salomone)

A mother carries her child through uncollected garbage on their way back from school in the historic Spanish district of Naples (AFP Photo / Roberto Salomone)

The Italian government is sending soldiers to the Mafia controlled areas north of Naples, which have become an illegal dumping ground for highly toxic chemicals and other garbage, known as the “Triangle of Death”.

Since the local mafia syndicate, known in the Naples area as the Camorra, decided to branch out into the lucrative waste disposal business in the 1980s, an area of the Campania province north of Naples has been ruined.

The Mafia, instead of paying high sums of money to have the waste disposed of legally, paid mobsters to dump it in fields, rivers, wells and lakes, Gazzetta Del Sud reports. This clandestine business was mostly carried at night to minimize detection.

Hidden away, although easy enough to find, are vast mounds of illegal and hazardous rubbish, ranging from highly dangerous industrial waste to asbestos and car tires.

Sometimes these garbage mountains are set alight and billow toxic fumes towards the neighboring towns of Nola, Acerra and Marigliano – the area north of Naples called the “Triangle of Death”.

But the ugly mountains of trash and the toxic fumes are the least of the locals’ worries. The real danger is in the water table and the aquifers feeding tomato and broccoli crops as well as vineyards and orchards, which have been poisoned with arsenic, heavy metals and chloroform.

10 million tons of industrial waste was trucked into the area at night between 1991 and 2013, according to Legambiente, an environmental protection association. One and half million people living in the Naples and Caserta provinces are affected.

Pedestrians walk by uncollected garbage downtown Naples on October 20, 2010 hours after local residents skirmished with riot police and set a bus alight near Naples. (AFP Photo / Roberto Salomone)

The government has decided to send in the army to try and deal with the problem.

“To deal with the phenomenon of the environment mafia in the area between Naples and Caserta,” the army is being deployed, Defense undersecretary Gioacchino Alfano said on Monday.

He told a meeting of the National Public Safety and Order Committee, which he chaired in Naples on Monday that “the military is staying as long as needed.”

The aims of the 850 troops who will be sent to the “Triangle of Death” will be “to punish those responsible, reclaim the lands to avoid the risk of further mafia activity and prevent the paradox of those areas that have already been reclaimed from being used again for illegal dumping,” he added, as The Independent quotes him.

But the army will not be able to deal with the mounting health problems for the local population that the illegal dumping has already caused.

Dr Antonio Marfella, hospital oncologist, shows the "Triangle of Death" on his computer in Naples (AFP Photo / Carlo Hermann)

A group of Italian and US scientists, from the Sbara Institute for Cancer Research at Temple University in Philadelphia, found that 30 years of the Camorra mafia disposing toxic refuse in the area north of Naples were to blame for breast cancer rates 47percent above the national average, while another study found birth defects were 80 percent above the norm.

As the authorities begin to crack down on the so-called Ecomafia business, the 90 Mafia clans and their 4,000 or so affiliates have begun to fight turf wars over who controls what, leading to series of “brutal Camorra murders” since the beginning of February.

This is not the first time that the army has been sent to the south of Italy after surges in Mafia activity. Massililiano Manfredi, a Naples born MP for the Democratic Party and a member of the parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission, said that the way to battle the Camorra is to root out the corrupt officials who make mafia deals possible, and not with the army alone.

“You don’t fight the Camorra with the army. Its real strength stems from the fact that it’s embedded in the public administration. We need to insist on the renewal of the ruling class to break the continuity between political power and organized crime,” he told the Independent.