View from Rue Saint-Georges

Toxic Shock

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | August 23, 2017
Flickr/Marcin Lachowicz
Flickr/Marcin Lachowicz


We didn’t mean to stay in “the triangle of death” when we booked a rustic Italian bed and breakfast for a few days. But the way we choose accommodations has changed so gradually yet definitively that it no longer seems remarkable to go on Airbnb or Homeaway and sift through any number of options, sometimes over immense swaths of the map, and pick the one whose curated images and pricepoints seem most agreeable. Then we fly in, rent a car, punch in an obscure address, and let Google do the rest. This is how my family and I ended up in a room at a lovely villa in Nola, Italy, 16 kilometers northeast of Naples and, along with Acerra and Marigliano, one of the three towns comprising the largest illegal waste dump in Europe, thanks to the Camorra mafia.

As we approached, we saw heaps of garbage along the highways and back roads, and white plumes of smoke rising along the hilly horizon—presumably, people’s desperate attempt to take waste management into their own hands. This naturally gorgeous area (the slapdash construction can be another story) is one of the most fertile regions in Europe thanks to the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. But according to one report from June 2016 in the Telegraph,

For many years businesses in the prosperous north of the country paid organized crime to dispose of toxic waste illegally rather than pay far higher rates to have it dealt with safely. So the Camorra Mafia contaminated great chunks of its own backyard, littering the landscape with heavy metals, solvents and chlorinated compounds.

Barrels were buried, containers driven into rivers, hazardous materials mixed in with household rubbish, chemical sludge spread on fields as ‘fertiliser’, asbestos burnt in open air. And only now is the tragic legacy of the Mafia’s idiocy finally becoming clear. But it is not just the Mafia. The story of this illegal waste disposal stains Italy. It reveals the dark side of capitalism, with allegations of state complicity, cover-ups by police, politicians and prosecutors.

One Mafia kingpin even claimed trucks drove from Germany carrying nuclear waste to dumps in Campania. …

In a town where doctors would rarely come across a child with cancer, let alone brain cancer, they now see these traumatic cases crop up almost every month. Too many young patients are ending up dead, some barely out of the womb, their bodies riddled with disease.

We can go virtually anywhere we want with great ease. Whether or not we always know where we’re going is another question.

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