It is alleged that the 14 died and a further 83 became ill as a direct result of working at a petrochemical plant owned by Italian company Celtica in the southern city of Brindisi. Sixty-eight managerial staff from the current and former owners, the Italian companies, Montedison, Enichem and Evc, are now accused of mass manslaughter and involuntary environmental disaster for failing to take precautionary measures to safeguard employees’ health, Alberto Fiorillo of the environmental group, Legambiente, told edie on 16 November.

Fiorillo said that the employees are believed to have developed leukaemia

as a result of prolonged exposure to vinyl chloride, a basic component of PVC plastic, as well as other toxic substances. The first cases of illness were reported at the plant 20 years ago, but an investigation only began two years ago, led by a former employee, Luigi Caretto, who has since died of cancer. This action was prompted after the closure of PVC and VCM manufacturing plants, in Porto Marghera, near Venice, following a chemical leak (see related story). The Petrolchimico di Brindisi plant, as it is known, has been closed since 12 November on police orders.

Authorities are now worried that emissions from the plant may have affected nearby residents too, and as a result Italy’s Environment Minister, Willer Bordon, has arranged a meeting set on 17 November to consider environmental monitoring in the entire Brindisi area. A protest was held at the gates of the plant on 14 November, led by Italy’s main environmental groups, Legambiente and WWF and the whole affair has been widely reported by the Italian media.

Legambiente said that adequate controls and environmental impact analysis were not carried out at the plant, despite warnings issued over decades, and has issued several demands in the wake of the revelations that:

  • the plant remains closed, no further economic activity is carried out on the site and the area is decontaminated;
  • all employees at the plant should be epidemiologically screened;
  • the government regulates high-risk industries more closely, for example, making sure that all plants have an efficient evacuation plan and are inspected. Any facilities failing to meet standards would be closed:

“We also want to stop Celtica from building another plant somewhere else, which they aim to do and to help indirect victims of this like people who live in the vicinity,” said Fiorillo.

Citing World Health Organisation data, the assocation also said that cancer rates in the industrial areas of Brindisi are a record 48% higher than the regional average and are the highest in any area of Italy. Other industrial areas in the south and also in the centre-north present cancer rates way above the regional average too, notably Crotone with cancer rates 46% above the regional norm, Taranto 22% above and Massa Carrara, 21%. Citizens of Italy’s third biggest city, Naples, are 15% more likely to develop cancer than their regional neighbours. All of these areas have a high concentration of heavy industry, especially in chemicals, and as many as 11 million Italians are at risk, Legambiente says.

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