The Italian Mafia Destroyed Italy’s Environment with Hazardous Waste

italy vesuvio

Near Naples in Italy, the environment is on the verge of destruction, and it’s all thanks to the local Italian mafia. 

Garbage is expensive to dispose of, and in a place like Italy where municipal dumps are filling up fast, getting rid of waste is an ongoing problem. Especially when it comes to hazardous waste.

Legally disposing of hazardous waste is expensive, so what happened in Italy to make it easier and more economical for companies to do? The Italian mafia stepped in. Near Naples, in the region of Campania, the home stomping grounds of the Camorra, started a lucrative business of disposing of hazardous waste from Italian manufacturers and others. How? They buried it in their own backyard.

One of Italy’s three main mafia organizations, the Camorra is now being accused of leaving an environmental disaster behind them, one that the local officials are only now starting to grapple with. The water is polluted, people have cancer and a once pristine landscape has turned into one dotted with garbage and the dark smoke caused from burning trash.

On the question of health, the New York Times reported:

“The biggest question is whether the buried toxic materials could cause a public health crisis. More than 500,000 people live in the region, and the Lancet study and other reports have documented cancer rates far above the national average. While no study has sought to prove a direct link, a World Health Organization report conducted with national and local health institutions documented clusters of liver, kidney, pancreatic and other cancers in areas known as dump sites.”

It’s not just a question of health and environment, it’s also a question of food and agriculture, a rich tradition that the region is known for. Toxic waste in the ground means it can easily seeping into the water stream. “It flows all over the place,” commander of the Naples region for Italy’s environmental police General Sergio Costa told the New York Times. “You can be a farmer who is unwittingly irrigating your land with polluted water.”

But even though they’re the  Italian mafia, shouldn’t the Camorra care that they are literally destroying their backyard? They have a solution for that, according to a wiretapped conversation between a Camorra boss and another mobster, in which the mobster voiced his concerns over polluting their own houses and land, cited in the New York Times article.

“What are we going to drink?” he asked.

“You idiot,” the boss replied. “We’ll drink mineral water.”

But as we all know, bottled water isn’t the solution to our problems, it’s the beginning. Someone might want to inform the boss.

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Image: Carlo Mirante

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.