World News

11.21.13

Italy’s Triangle Of Death: Naples Residents Blame Child Cancer Rates On Mob Disposal Of Toxic Chemicals

Italians are blaming sky-high child cancer rates on the mob’s alleged dumping of toxic chemicals—contaminating water, mozzarella, and the developing brains of babies.

Ten years ago, there was no pediatric cancer ward anywhere near the tiny village of Acerra, in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius just outside of Naples, Italy. Now, the local hospitals have set up facilities equipped for radiation and chemotherapy for children. A mobile blood test unit putters around the area to test white blood counts. The national average for juvenile brain tumors in Italy is just 0.5 per every 100,000 children. But in Acerra, a town of just 56,000 residents, the average number is three children with brain cancer at any given time, which locals attribute to the rogue dumping of toxic chemicals in the countryside by the Camorra crime syndicate. Over the last two decades, thousands of tons of toxic waste have been dumped, burned and buried in an area known as the ‘triangle of death’ that runs from Naples to Caserta to the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, which is an active volcano that could theoretically blow at any time, spreading the toxic waste problem much further afield. The toxins have polluted the groundwater and poisoned the soil. Pope Francis weighed in after 150,000 parishioners in nearby Casal di Principe sent him postcards with pictures of the children who have perished from cancer and leukemia in the last few years. He called a nun, referred to as Sister Teresa, after she put her cellphone number on her postcard, telling her he would pray for the children and those caring for them. Even the Italian government now refers to the area as the “terra di tumori” or “land of tumors.”

Tonia, age six, was the latest victim of the Camorra’s toxic crimes. She died two months ago after spending the last four and a half years fighting an untreatable brain tumor. Last weekend her mother, Pina Leanza, led a 50,000-strong protest in Naples to draw attention to what she calls a “cancer epidemic at the hands of the Camorra”. According to a study conducted by the Pascale Institute in Naples, the mortality rate from cancer in the triangle of death has risen between 15 and 20 percent in the seven years. But in some towns, like Acerra, the increase is more than 30 percent. If nothing is done to clear the soil and decontaminate the water supply, the rate is expected to grow to 47 percent for men and 40 percent for women by 2015. The Pascale study found that 9,969 people have died from cancer and pulmonary diseases, allegedly related to the toxic waste, since 2005. The study followed a 2004 report by Lancet that first analyzed the rising levels of toxins after the U.S. military base in Naples started warning troops and their families stationed in the Naples area not to drink the water or eat dairy products like buffalo mozzarella because of suspected high levels of toxins.

A second study conducted by the U.S. Navy in 2011, meant only for military personnel based in Naples, was printed in the Italian magazine L’Espresso last week. The report alleges that high levels of arsenic, fecal coliform and dioxins were found in random tests of water samples in the area despite Italian assurances that the water was safe. The study also found high levels of insecticides that have been banned for years due to safety concerns in soil samples, which ultimately make it into the food chain. The report warned U.S. military personnel based in Naples to stay clear of the local water supplies, even suggesting the “use of bottled water for off-base personnel, for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushing teeth, making ice, and for pets, due to the widespread presence of contaminants (e.g., arsenic, fecal coliform, PCE) as measured in the tap water, as well as the other drinking water system infrastructure deficiencies.” The navy also suggested that off-base families choose living accommodations above the second floor, “which will significantly mitigate concerns associated with vapor intrusion from soil gas.”

The Italian government has been cornered into reluctantly admitting that they have known about the problem for years. Transcripts of 1997 testimony by Camorra turncoat Carmine Schiavone, made public recently, detail first-hand the Camorra’s actions. “It became a real business, which brought money in, but the residents risked dying of cancer within 20 years. I don’t think they can be saved,” he told the court 16 years ago. ‘We have killed your children.”

The report warned U.S. military personnel based in Naples to stay clear of the local water supplies, even suggesting the “use of bottled water for off-base personnel, for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushing teeth, making ice, and for pets…”

Schiavone, who now lives in an undisclosed location under protection, also gave an interview to Italian television network Mediaset in which he showed on a map the areas around Naples where the bulk of the worst toxins—which he says include atomic waste from nuclear energy plants in Germany, Austria and Switzerland—are buried, alleging that the government was well aware of the criminal activity, but that the local officials were also involved in the lucrative business. He says he went to the police because he could no longer stand by and watch the illegal activity. “I warned them that this toxic waste would kill entire generations,” he told Mediaset. “They told me not to worry, and just drink bottled water. I said, ‘what good it is to drink bottled water when the whole population is dead?”

Legambiente has been warning of the equivalent of an environmental apocalypse in the triangle of death for years. They estimate that more than 100,000 tons of toxic waste have been dumped in the area between 1991 and 2013, even citing the use of 400,000 semi trucks that apparently ferried the waste from more 443 Italian companies who reportedly commissioned the Camorra to literally do their dirty work rather than disposing of the waste properly. Legambiente says the government knew all along the extent of the problem, but did nothing to save the population. Citing 82 criminal complaints for illegal trafficking of toxic waste that ran the gamut from reports of mysterious midnight runs by large container trucks to rogue fires in the Neapolitan hinterland, that were ignored by authorities, they conclude that: “Only politicians’ widespread inertia’ and ‘oversights’ by controllers, a dense network of collusion and a mafia code of silence could have resulted in the invisibility of such a column of trucks.”

Accusations against the so-called eco-mafia for poisoning the local population have been brewing for many years. In 2010, Ferdinando Mosca, who owns a fruit shop in the Neapolitan suburb of Terzigno, not far from Acerra along the lush slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, told The Daily Beast that he was worried his children would get cancer from the toxic waste being dumped by the Camorra. He described the pollution like as a “heavy, soiled blanket that smothers us each night.”

“It burns your eyes. It closes your throat. The children vomit and cough. Our bodies are covered with rashes.”

This week, Mosca told The Daily Beast that he was just completing his last dose of chemotherapy for lung cancer. “I knew this would happen,” he said. “We all know if it hasn’t happened yet, we aren’t safe, we’re just next.”