All of a sudden local farmers began finding dead dogs. The birds drinking water from the puddles also met with a sorry end. It was plain to see that there was something wrong, but it took a lot longer to establish the contents of that abandoned quarry: the toxic industrial waste dumped by the companies Ecoservizi and Italrifiuti. The dumping began in the early seventies and went on for a whole decade, until proof of the environmental disaster taking place in Vallosa di Passirano, in the heart of the prized Franciacorta wine region in the Eastern Macro-region, oozed to the surface, like the toxic sludge on the site.
We now know that this landfill site, authorised to take urban waste and in actual fact brimming with heavy
metals, also contains PCBs, pollutants similar to dioxins, from the Brescia company Caffaro, which – right in the city centre – released millions of tonnes of these extremely toxic compounds, proven carcinogens that are associated – among other things – with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The area around the company was placed on the list of ‘Sites of National Importance’, i.e. the most hazardous kind, requiring urgent clean-up. In theory, because in actual fact hardly anything has been done to attempt to limit the damage caused by this pollution, damage that has reached colossal proportions in this area. The Macro-region is home to eight of Italy’s 39 ‘Sites of National Importance’, along with four classified as being of regional importance. They range from the areas contaminated by asbestos around the Eternit plant in Casale Monferrato, in the west of the Macroregion, the chemical plant in Porto Marghera, at the Eastern end of the Macro-region overlooking the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic, the Lakes of Mantova inundated with chemical waste, the illegal dumps of industrial waste in Pioltello Rodano, near Milan, and the Caffaro site, where the Passirano quarry is. All of these areas have a higher incidence of tumours.
The small former quarry in Vallosa is just a drop in the tidal wave of poisons that engulfs the most productive areas of Italy, but it is nonetheless an exemplary case. Industry had found itself a handy dumping ground, and the current situation is the result of the combined effects of direct pollution and secondary pollution. Waste has been dumped here for years without anyone asking any questions: the problem was only tackled once the disaster was full blown. Politicians and the authorities tacitly permitted an irremediable process of environmental degradation, firstly by authorizing the dump, and secondly by not monitoring its contents.
The business of the Caffaro chemical company located in Brescia, in the Central Macroregion, started in 1906 with the production of sodium hydroxide and various other chemical compounds, including plants protection products and pesticides. Starting since 1938, the company launched the production of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), which was halted in 1984. The pollution created by the company’s activities, in addition to the contamination of the soil underneath the plant, spread itself in the areas located south of the factory as a consequence of the dumping of industrial waste waters into the irrigation canals. Environmental investigations starting in the year 2000 focusing on the Caffaro factory and its surrounding area detected a soil pollution with values exceeding the law limits by thousands of times. In the plant’s area the pollutants – as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/F), mercury, arsenic and various solvents – spread themselves in the soil reaching beyond the depth of 40 meters, contaminating also the aquifer as a consequence.
“The Vallosa site is one small example of the passion for landfill.”
The waste disposal business made local entrepreneurs rich, even without the involvement of the so-called eco-mafia and organized crime. For years there have been discussions, studies, analyses and promises to take action, but nothing has been done.
The Vallosa site is one small example of the passion for landfill that characterises the Macro-region. With a preference for illegal sites: a thousand of these, with varying levels of toxicity, have been counted. Naturally, these are the areas that produce most of the special waste, both hazardous and inert, from building, manufacturing or directly from waste treatment and sewage treatment: 52 million tonnes in 2012 alone, 54 the previous year.
“At Vallosa quarry politicians and the authorities tacitly permitted an irremediable process of environmental degradation.”
Brescia’s Incinerator, in the Central Macroregion, is the biggest incinerator in Europe. It’s also called Termoutilizzatore (Thermal producer) as it generates electrical power with the wastes it burns – about 800,000 tonnes per year, ten times the amount of waste produced by the city itself. Its characteristic chimney is colored in alternating shades of blue along its sides, attracting the interest of observers and creating a sort of trompe l’oeil in between the industry and the sky.
“1.2 of the 9 million tonnes of municipal solid waste generated in the Macro-region in 2013 went to landfill.”
To manage this enormous mountain of waste, 120 landfill sites were created. Former quarries filled till they form malodorous mounds: this is the preferred system for disposing of waste, although in recent years incinerators and waste sorting for recycling purposes have been gaining ground. 1.2 of the 9 million tonnes of municipal solid waste generated in the Macro-region in 2013 went to landfill. Deserving of a special mention is the town of Montichiari in the province of Brescia in the Central Macro-region, population 25,000, which boasts an impressive 14 official landfill sites, along with a handful of illegal ones, and where the authorities are looking to open a further three rubbish dumps.
In terms of the amount of refuse burned, the city of Brescia itself holds a proud record, hosting the biggest incinerator in Europe. It can burn up to 800,000 tonnes of rubbish a year, in turn generating 170,000 tonnes of residues to dispose of. It is one of the 18 incinerators in the Macro-region, out of 49 in Italy, and lies only a twenty minute drive from Vallosa di Passirano.