Naples mothers take lead in anti-landfill protests

25 October 2010

AFP – Mothers from the Naples region are taking the lead in angry anti-landfill protests, blocking garbage trucks and confronting riot police to warn about the dangers to their children’s health.

“Living here is impossible,” Nazarena Gargiulo, 52, a local teacher who has set up a group called “Volcanic Mothers” in reference to the women’s fiery temperament and the nearby Mount Vesuvius volcano, told AFP in an interview.

There have been weeks of both peaceful sit-ins and violent skirmishes with police in the area to stop trucks from unloading at an existing landfill and to block plans for a new garbage dump, which would be Europe’s biggest.

“We’re pacifists but we’re strong,” Gargiulo said at a protest in the town of Terzigno this week, as hundreds of women around her shouted slogans.

“We can’t breathe any more. We have to defend our children from the horrible side effects of the tip,” she said.

Several activists from her committee wearing black T-shirts reading “Mamme Vulcaniche” in pink and white lettering handed out copies of anti-landfill letters for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to be signed by local children.

Elena Jacobelli, who had her five-year-old son with her at the demonstration, said she was scared that his life was at risk.

“The lemons on the trees that grow in this area are often deformed. How can we let our children eat the fruit grown here and breathe the same air?”

Gargiulo remembers the moment when noxious biogas from the landfill started to seep into houses and schools.

“One morning, I found our classrooms full of biogas and my pupils had problems breathing. I had to put them in the corridors and air the rooms before we could start lessons,” she said.

The “scary” experience made her realise that she had to do something to fight back against the encroaching garbage.

“At that point something inside me rebelled,” she explained.

Gargiulo gathered signatures for a petition to the health department and rallied pupils and parents to join a campaign against the new tip.

“It’s unacceptable that there is biogas in a place where children are supposed to be safe,” she said.

One of the residents’ main fears is that dangerous materials and hospital waste are being dumped illegally in the current tip, which are then causing an unusually high level of disease in the local population, from asthma to cancer.

The authorities have assured local residents that the dump is safe.

The Volcanic Mothers say that young children, the elderly and pregnant women are most at risk from the biogas produced by rotting rubbish.

“It’s no longer simply a question of the stench from the garbage that forces us to keep our windows closed. The biogas leaking out is responsible for awful diseases,” said Gargiulo.

Gargiulo said she and the other mothers will continue their protest until the current tip is shut down.

“The Sari dump is still being used even though it is overflowing, and it’s poisoning the entire region,” she said.

Like many of the protesters in the Campania region — where Naples is located — Gargiulo has little faith in Berlusconi’s promises to resolve the crisis, but is pinning her hopes on the European Union.

“We don’t trust the government, that’s why we’re fighting,” she said.

“We are European citizens, we pay our taxes and we want to be defended against the administrators in Italy that are literally killing us,” she said.

The recent skirmishes in Terzigno prompted the EU’s Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik to warn that Italy faces EU legal action and massive fines if it fails to improve waste management around Naples.

Antonella Marra, a 44-year-old local resident, said: “The state has abandoned us. All we can hope now is that the EU will save us.”

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