Never really known as a friendly group, the Italian mafia has been brutally murdering people for hundreds of years. Most of the time, these killings are quick—some henchmen waylay the target, squeeze a trigger a few times and make their getaway. Yet according to a new report released last week by the Italian National Institute of Health, a few local Italian mobs have been slowly killing dozens of innocent people for decades by way of a multibillion dollar toxic waste disposal racket.
In 2014, the Italian parliament mandated that the National Institute of Health conduct an investigation into the higher than normal rates of death and cancer in 55 municipalities of the Naples and Caserta regions of southern Italy. This region has garnered the nicknames “the Land of Fires” thanks to the frequency with which toxic waste is burned by the local Camorra mob, a practice which gave rise to the region’s other nickname: the Triangle of Death.
The Camorra mob has been running a multi-billion dollar racket in which they dispose of toxic waste for businesses in Italy’s industrial north since at least the early 1990s. By skirting environmental regulations the mob is able to dispose of these hazardous industrial materials for a fraction of the cost of legal disposal, and the industrialists in the north are smart enough to not ask questions about what happens to their garbage once it leaves their hands.
An estimated 10 million tons of toxic waste has been buried and burned at a number of dump sites throughout Naples in the last 20 years. This has led to the widespread contamination of the underground wells which irrigate the farmland in the Naples region, which provides vegetables for much of Italy’s center and south.
In recent years this has led police to sequester dozens of fields because their irrigation wells were found to contain high levels of lead, arsenic and the industrial solvent tetrachloride. The poisoning of the well water has led to what the new NIH report describes as a “critical” health crisis in the region which is characterized by “excessive” rates of tumors in newborn infants, particularly brain tumors.
Local residents have long known about the Camorra mob’s racket and have been complaining about the resulting health crisis for years to authorities. This culminated in 2013 with a massive protest numbering well over 30,000 people calling for an end to the mafia’s dumping. The public outrage prompted the Italian parliament to order an NIH investigation into the matter in 2014. Last week’s report was an update to the 2014 report and blames the higher than average rates of cancer and death in the Naples region on "ascertained or suspected exposure to a combination of environmental contaminants that can be emitted or released from illegal dump hazardous waste sites or the uncontrolled burning of both urban and hazardous waste."
The report is a step in the right direction, but for many locals it only confirms what they have known and suffered for years, Reverend Maurizio Patriciello, a priest in the area, pointed out.
"Can we claim victory? Absolutely not," he wrote in Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, on Saturday. "In this shameful, sad and painful story, we have lost everything. The government above all."