By Camille Emma Rinaldi & Romina Rodela
Pressure from environmental pollution on urban settlements is a main environmental issue across Europe, and elsewhere. Recent reports from the World Health Organization warn against the negative effect of pollution on human health. For instance exposure to particulate matter (PM) may reduce life expectancy (average of 1 year), and increase the k of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and of lung cancer.
The city of Taranto, in the South of Italy, hosts four industrial plants: an Italian navy shipyard, the cement plant Cementir, the oil refinery ENI and the steel plant Ilva. These industrial hubs have been pressuring the environment and citizens’ health since the 1960s. The area is under high pollution pressure and (water, air and soil) and already in 1997 was declared as area subjected to environmental crisis.
Of a great concern is the pollution coming from the Ilva factory. This plant is 2,5 times of the size of the Taranto city itself on the map below the size of the plan seen on the left side of the can be seen (Aip-Petroli-Ilva). The plant is the source of multiple-pollutants. For instance emission of dioxin from the blast furnaces and the uncontrolled emissions spilling out of the A312 chimney; the open air mining stocks which cause dispersion of particles of benzopyrene, copper, lead, and carbon monoxide when the wind blows; and the contamination of the water used to chill the steel products, which is afterwards released back into the sea.
A study, ordered as part to a preliminary inquiry, assumed that in the period from 2004 to 2010, the pollution was responsible for 91 deaths, 160 cases of heart diseases and 219 cases of respiratory diseases (Eidemiological Report, 2012). While these facts were available only in July 2012, since 2008 a fervent environmental activism has steadily grown in the town.
It all began with a piece of cheese a local farmer, together with a local activists, took to an independent lab to be analysed for toxic substances. A high level of dioxin, found to be coming from the A312 chimney at Ilva, was found in the block of cheese. Since then, dioxin was found in the farming land around 5 kilometres from Ilva, in mussels and even in human blood and urine.
That event launched the start of an important inquiry which grew from the protest movement for environmental justice in Taranto. Given the proportion of the pollution many advocacy groups are now active, as we can for example list: environmental groups, social justice groups, worker right groups and groups for the safeguard of the health in Taranto.
As part to the Environmental Governance in Context research project we set to study social movements in Taranto and as part to this undertook a comprehensive scoping study, meant to inventory all stakeholders active in the town. The study identified 51 stakeholders of interest for our project and these were contacted for the purpose of further research as are semi-structured interviews. We clustered these stakeholders in three groups. The first group consists of activists for environmental justice and other grassroots groups fighting for the Ilva factory to improve its environmental standards and decrease the pollution. A second group of stakeholders includes a different form of activism, with organisations like Taranto Futura, Taranto Lider, ISDE Taranto, focused on the health of the citizens in Taranto. As a matter of fact, the toxic emission coming from the steel plant during the last decades had serious consequences on the health of both the workers and of the population in Taranto. The increase in cancer patients, infertility and respiratory diseases have sparkled an intense work of advocacy that translates into numerous demonstrations, many workshops and conferences and the construction of an ambulatory for children with cancer to be treated in the town instead of having to travel to the regional hub. A third group of stakeholders are organizations focused on the future of the city. Giustizia per Taranto, Genitori Tarantini and Altamarea have been exploring and debating alternative futures for the town. They claim in fact that the current economy, based on the profits of the heavy industry, has come to an end and so the city needs to renew itself in ways that take into account the resources and culture that is intrinsic of that area, and that is more respectful of nature and its peoples.
During March 2018, our project team (R. Rodela & C. Rinaldi) undertook extensive field work in Taranto as part to which has undertaken semi-structured interviews and observation. The dta collected, consisting of tape-recorded interviews, observations, photographs and videos, constitute material now processed as part to this project to be analysed and presented in a working paper, and scientific publications later this year.
A master thesis by C. Rinaldi on the different communication strategies and use of social media has been submitted and approved by Södertörn University.
The master thesis of C. Rinaldi can be accessed and downloaded from HERE