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POLLUTION

Up to two thousand tonnes of microplastics estimated to be on Italy’s beaches

A new study by the University of Pisa found worrying quantities of tiny plastic particles embedded in Italy's sandy beaches.

Up to two thousand tonnes of microplastics estimated to be on Italy's beaches
Photo: Depositphotos

Researchers from the university's industrial chemistry department analyzed various points along the banks of the Arno and Serchio rivers in Tuscany, both of which flow into the sea on Italy's western coastline. 

The results showed a burgeoning environmental hazard: In some areas where samples were taken, between 5 and 10 grams of microplastics were found below the surface of the sand, leading the scientists to estimate that there are potentially thousands of tonnes of such semi-degraded particles across Italy's beaches. 

The research team analyzed plastic particles smaller than 2 millimetres, most of which had been washed in from the sea.

Polyolefins, used for food packaging, and polystyrene – a rigid and cheap plastic also used for disposable CD containers or razors – were the main microplastics observed. 

“Our research highlights how this form of environmental contamination can be pervasive and almost omnipresent even in areas where tourists come to swim in large numbers,” Professor Valter Castelvetro, the study's main author, said in an executive summary issued by the University of Pisa.

“One of the main risks is that microplastics act as collectors of pollutant substances that are also highly toxic such as pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” added Castelvetro. 

Most studies into maritime pollution focus on larger plastic debris, which is usually collected using nets in the open sea. Few studies have focused on microplastics and their impact on beaches, adds the university's report

The University of Pisa's study concludes that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 tonnes of microplastics on Italy's beaches. 

Pollution is not limited to Italy's beaches, however. A 2017 report by Italian environmental institute Legambiente found that 40 per cent of the water along the Italian coastline is polluted. 

That report found that 105 samples of water out of a total 260 tested, approximately 40 per cent, “contained polluted results with bacterial charges above legal limits,” according to Legambiente's final report. 

Legambiente's study – part of a 30-year project to monitor pollution along Italy's coastline – highlighted 38 “critical points.” with the regions of Lazio, Campania, Calabria and Sicily populating most of the black list.  Thirty per cent of all recorded cases of pollution in 2016 were in Campania or Sicily alone.

In April 2018, the Tremiti Islands – an archipelago off Italy's eastern coast – banned plastic plates, cups, forks and other picnicware, with fines of up to €500 for those who break the law. 

READ MORE: Hundreds of thousands of plastic discs are washing up on Italian beaches

 

 

 

 

HEALTH

Florence wants to ban smoking in parks and at bus stops

Local authorities in Florence are preparing to restrict smoking outdoors as well as inside.

Florence wants to ban smoking in parks and at bus stops
Florence is set to follow Milan in banning smoking outdoors in public. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The city council plans to introduce a ban on smoking “in public parks, gardens and in other places that are usually crowded and where youngsters gather”, local councillor for the environment Cecilia Del Re told La Repubblica.

The measure will be included in Florence's upcoming plan to reduce air pollution, Del Re told the newspaper, which is due to be approved by the end of February. Allowing time to define and communicate the new rules, the ban is expected to come into force around June 2021.

That will make Florence the second big city in Italy after Milan to widely restrict smoking outdoors in the city centre. Milan's ban, approved late last year and effective from this month, forbids lighting up in places such as public transport stops, parks, childrens' play areas, sports stadiums and cemeteries.

Other Italian cities including Verona and Bolzano already outlaw smoking in public parks – though not on the streets – while Venice has proposed making parts of its historic centre no-smoking zones (without passing any legislation to date).

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Health and environmental advocates have long pushed for restrictions on smoking outdoors, notably on Italy's beaches, saying the habit contributes to air pollution and litter.

The campaign has taken on new urgency amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which added a new health risk to the act of smoking at a time when Italy requires people to wear face masks in public at all times, including outside. Studies have also suggested a possible link between poor air quality and severe illness from Covid-19.

Consumer watchdog Codacons has urged Italian authorities to follow Spain's example and forbid smoking in public outdoor places throughout the country. The Spanish government in August banned smoking on the street, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, as coronavirus cases surged.

Italy has had a ban on smoking indoors since 2005, but rules are less strict than in some other European countries; smoking is allowed on bar and restaurant terraces and next to the doors of public buildings, for example.

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