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'Serious health risk' in Naples area as garbage system backs up

ROME, May 23, 2007 (AFP) - An overloaded garbage handling system is posing a "serious health risk" in the Naples area where 15,000 tonnes of waste is awaiting treatment, a government spokeswoman said Wednesday.

"There's a serious health risk," Ilaria Proietti told AFP. "It's a total exaggeration to talk about the threat of cholera, but the proliferation of rats, mice and other rodents ... could cause diseases."

The two-week-old crisis has seen some 15,000 tonnes of waste accumulate along roads in the southern province, including nearly 3,000 tonnes in Naples itself, because of a logjam at overstretched treatment and recycling centres, said Proietti, spokeswoman for an extraordinary commission assigned to the longstanding regional problem.

Despite appeals not to burn the trash to prevent the release of toxic substances such as dioxin into the air, hundreds of voluntary fires are keeping firefighters busy round the clock.

The chronic problem is the result of a lack of space in existing dumps, some of which have been closed by legal injunctions after their operations were taken over by organised crime, dubbed the "ecomafia".

The problem is complicated by inadequate recycling infrastructure.

A May 10 decree by the centre-left government creating four new dumps -- fiercely opposed by people living nearby -- will not come into effect for several weeks.

Mountains of garbage in the streets of Frattamaggiore, a town of some 30,000 north of Naples, prompted its mayor to close schools from Wednesday until further notice.

The head of an association of hotel managers in Naples, Pasquale Gentile, said reservations were down as the high tourist season approaches.
 

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Italy faces smelly summer as waste crisis burns

ROME, June 19 (Reuters) - Parts of southern Italy face a hot and smelly summer as residents set fire to putrefying rubbish piled in the streets while authorities try to win a war they have long been losing against trash.

Streets in Naples and nearby towns are piled with household waste that has nowhere else to go -- the fault of political mismanagement, conflicting interests and organised crime, according to the head of parliament's environment committee.

"There's been a climate of general irresponsibility," Ermete Realacci told Reuters in an interview in which he tried to explain how a G8 country could allow waste to be burned and dumped illegally for so long that it has poisoned the water and land that hundreds of thousands of people live on.

"This week will be hot and that increases the unpleasantness and people's tendency to burn it -- that's when the worst dioxin pollution happens," said Realacci.

Italy declared a state of emergency for waste in the Campania region in 1994, but a series of trash tsars have been failing to stop the periodic crises in which locals have no choice but to dump, and often burn, rubbish in the streets.

Part of the problem is that organised crime -- rife in the Naples area where the Camorra holds sway -- has made illegal waste disposal an industry worth 5.8 billion euros a year in 2006, according to a study by conservation group Legambiente.

"The Camorra has been illegally dumping industrial waste," Realacci said. "For household rubbish, they are involved in transport, and the Camorra has an interest in keeping this situation of confusion because it means that controlling illegality (in waste transport) is more difficult."

"In recent years, the waste emergency has become an industry in itself."

Mafia-controlled waste disposal -- where it is buried or burned in uncontrolled conditions -- has poisoned the environment so badly in parts of the region that people are two-to-three times more likely to get liver cancer than in the rest of Italy, according to Italy's National Research Council.

The current trash tsar, Guido Bertolaso, has set himself an end-year deadline to solve the crisis. By then a massive incinerator should be operational, despite opposition by the locals, in Acerra -- a small town in the highly polluted area known as the "triangle of death."

Bertolaso's car was attacked by protesters when he tried to visit the mayor of Ariano Irpino, another small town where he has demanded that a decommissioned rubbish dump be reopened for three weeks as a short-term bid to ease the crisis.

The hot, smelly summer may also hurt Prime Minister Romano Prodi as the Campania region is a stronghold of his centre-left coalition where politicians are accused of failing their voters.
 

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I loved Italy when I visited but it seemed like a cross between a clean first world country and a filthy third world country. From the three main cities I visited Milan was the cleanest, Rome was dirty, and Catania was the dirtiest. I'd love to see Naples though.
 
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