Pomezia: a wake-up call for Italy

A reflection on the dangers of environmental disasters

In recent years, it has been increasingly common to hear the news of environmental disasters affecting our country, with serious implications for both humans and animals, and the area they live in. In most cases, these disasters have been caused by human actions, and by all those activities that alter the perfect balance of nature. The latest environmental disaster in Pomezia has surely re-drawn attention onto the danger of these events, and on the critical environmental stability not only of our country but also of the whole globe.
Indeed, on May 5th, the fire burst at Pomezia (supposedly an arson) at ECOX, an industrial plant dealing with the disposal of plastic and paper waste, has produced a significant concentration of dioxins in the air, together with other dangerous substances. Impressive data have been collected by Arpa Lazio, registering a record presence of “diossine” and “furani” that is over 700 times the threshold of risk. Also the hydrocarbons concentration results superior to the limit.
However, “alarmism should be avoided“, advices Roberto Scacchi, president of Legambiente Lazio, who emphasizes the need to consider the danger of the dispersion of the polluting substances, brought by the winds all over the region.
Certainly, this has been one of the most recent chemical and hydrocarbon-related disasters in Italy. The first one dates back to 1906, the starting date of the production of Eternit at Casale-Monferrato, causing a considerable number of deaths, mainly of workers, but also of the people living in the surroundings of the plant. From then onwards, many have been the cases of environmental pollution due to chemical products and hydrocarbons in Italy:

1926-1980s, Lake Orta: copper sulfate drains from textile production;

1932-1983, Brescia: pollution by “policlorobifenili”;

1964, Taranto, Dioxins from the first steel blast furnace provoking innumerable cancer cases in the city, particularly in the Rione Tamburi district;

1965-now, Gela: Hydrocarbons from petrochemical pole;

1970 for decades, Porto Marghera: Vinyl Chloride from chemical industries;

1972, San Dorligo della Valle : The terminal of the transalpine oil pipeliney suffers from an attack by the September Black terrorist organization thereby producing a toxic cloud;

1976, July 10 Seveso (Brianza), Dioxins: At the ICMESA plant (Givaudan), a reactor explodes, dispersing in the TCDD “tetracloro-p-dibenzodiossina” in the environment: about 37,000 people were exposed to the highest ever recorded levels of dioxin. This is one of the most recent environmental disasters in northern Italy and still “under study”;

1985, Tracimazione (Trentino): Val di Stava catastrophe: the decantation basins of the fluorite mine at Prestavel broke the banks by unloading 160,000 m³ of mud on the town of Stava, causing the death of 268 people.

1988, July 17, Massa: explosion in the Farmoplant insecticide factory producing a toxic cloud with dimethoate emissions;

1994,Campania: the garbage crisis begins, provoking deaths for tumors and other pathologies in the area known as Earth of Fires;

2007, Abruzzo: one of the largest toxic waste illegal dumping;

2008, Catania: suspicious deaths of dozens of researchers at the chemistry laboratory of the Pharmacy faculty at the University of Catania: toxic waste was unloaded illegally in the sinks, polluting the aquifers and producing toxic fumes coming out of the drains.

2017, May 5: Pomezia: fire at the Eco X plant in Via Pontina, with dispersion of dioxides and other polluting substances.
These have been the most relevant cases of environmental damage caused by human activities in our country, that seems to be increasingly fragile from the point of view of environmental sustainability. In this regard, EU has repeatedly rebuked Italy, due to the fact that many Italian cities have already exceeded the maximum endorsed levels of toxic emissions. Mainly, three are the risks to face, as consequences: contamination of air and aquifers; contamination of the agro-food products; lack of environmental equity on the national territory, due to the disadvantages brought by the above-mentioned damages to the production, and then the overall economy of some regions.
What happened in Pomezia, as in many other places, in Italy but also abroad, has to make us reflect on the fragility of the human, artificial “ecosystem”, built over the real, natural one. We all do love progress, but we should also be aware that true progress must not exclude the health of the environment we live in, and then our own health. We are part of the environment: any damage to it counts as a damage to ourselves, or at least to the future generations. That is why the Governments of each Nation are called to empower investment on strong plans of action in this field, and to strengthen regulations aimed at guaranteeing environmental protection (for example through stricter checks of the status of industrial plants, and all those activities that are most likely to contribute to pollution). Any environmental disaster might happen when we less expect it, as Pomezia witnessed. Moreover, we should keep in mind that whatever damage occurs in a certain place, it also affects the rest of the globe, starting from the surrounding area. This is what we are experiencing, indeed: in these days, it seems that some toxic substances, coming from Pomezia, have reached Rome as well. And even if nobody says a word about it, the air smells a little bit less pure than before even here in the north of the city. And this is not just my own impression.
In conclusion, we should keep in mind that everything is dynamic, and ever transforming in this world: pollution neither remains fixed in a place, nor it cannot be deleted. It just transforms itself into something else, going somewhere else. Aware of this, we are called to find valuable solutions for the sustainability of our future, and that of the new generations… now!