The Italians fighting illness from toxic waste

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Photos: Noi Ci Mettiamo La Faccia/Facebook
13:56 CEST+02:00
Two Italian teenagers with first-hand experience of the dangers of illegal toxic waste dumping have started a Facebook page to draw attention to the health risks – a campaign that went viral this week. The Local catches up with them to find out more.

So what’s the campaign about?

Entitled ‘Noi Ci Mettiamo La Faccia’ (We’re taking on the responsibility), the Facebook campaign's trying to draw attention to the human cost of the dumping and burning of toxic waste by the Camorra (the Naples-based crime syndicate) on local communities in the region of Campania.

Members of the Camorra, who have maintained at least partial control of refuse disposal in the region since the mid-1990s, reportedly dump the waste by day and burn it at night, releasing toxic fumes across a broad area stretching as far as Caserta, 40 km north of Naples.

According to Italian media reports, more than 6,000 fires have been lit in the last 18 months to destroy toxic waste in the Campania region – and 57 communities have experienced serious pollution since 2001.

The cause has already received plenty of media attention, with Italian celebrities like Olympic swimming champion Federica Pellegrini joining the ‘Terra dei Fuochi’ Facebook campaign. But this is the first ‘non-VIP’ campaign of this kind.

What kind of impact does this have on health?

In a World Health Organization (WHO) report, a pilot study examining the impact of waste treatment on human health in the Campania region found evidence of 20 different cancers between 1994 and 2001 and 11 types of congenital malformations between 1996 and 2002.

The study concluded that in some municipalities, “There are consistent and significant statistical increases regarding some of the causes of deaths examined, including cancer of the stomach, kidney, liver and lung and for urogenital and cardiovascular congenital malformations.”

Speaking to The Local last week, a priest in the town of Caivano just north of Naples said mortality rates had risen 300 percent between 2008 and 2012.

Who started the campaign and why?

The Facebook campaign was started by two 19-year-old students from the southern Italian town of Trentola-Duecenta in the region of Campania, northwest of Naples.

Both have first-hand experience of the problem.

“We experience it every day. We live on this land, we see toxic waste every day. We breathe this air, we drink this water, we eat the products of our land. Is it possible to be more affected than this?” they tell The Local.

Their decision to launch the campaign was “spontaneous”, they say – “a kind of reaction to the burning of toxic waste that, even if it has existed for a long time, has this summer started to become more widespread.”

How does their campaign work?

“In a very simple way. Whoever wants to participate – regardless of their age – can send a photo of his or her face to our Facebook page, along with the words: ‘I don’t want to die of cancer.’”

Click here to view photos from the Facebook campaign

What kind of reaction has there been so far?

Well, judging from the amount of ‘likes’ the page has attracted –more than 7,000 by Thursday morning – overwhelmingly positive.

“The messages have been numerous, and we’ve been sent just under 400 photos - not only from people in the area, but also from lots of people who’ve had to leave Campania for work or personal reasons,” the students say.

“Many have also written to us asking for help, but we’ve reiterated that we can only hope to change things if we’re all united. Alone, we are nothing.”

The campaign has also attracted some negative comment.

“Some have accused us of looking for fame, or else said that using Facebook is pointless.” 

What do they hope to achieve?

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For now, the page is simply an awareness campaign, but the pair hope to achieve something more meaningful in the long run.

“What we hope to do is to create a movement so big that it will affect the responsible parties. We also want to demonstrate that, in the south, we’re not completely ignorant - as some people believe. And we’re asking for help.”

Lots of children have sent in photos. Isn’t this risky?

“I don’t think there will be problems,” one of the campaigners tells The Local. “Whoever sent their photos knew that they would be published on Facebook and therefore given a certain amount of visibility.

“The battle that we want to drive forward is above all for them, the future generations. So their faces are more important than ours.”

Are politicians likely to take the campaign seriously?

“We think that, sooner or later, they’ll do something for us - otherwise we’d never have started this campaign,” say the students. “But to prompt them to do something, we have to show that we’re really fed up with this situation and make ourselves heard.”

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