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Pollution. The refineries are long gone, but the toxic sludge remains. Citizens were alarmed when they saw “dirty, oily liquid, like gasoline” spew from their taps.

In east Naples, black water that never drained

On the highway to Naples, the exit is marked with a black sign with the factory design and an oil-colored cloud. The smell is unmistakable and known in any town that has or has hosted in the past heavy industries in the hydrocarbons sector. We are in eastern Naples, less than 5 kilometers from Central Station, the eastern outskirts of the Campanian capital. A former refinery area, still far from any possible economic development.

The oil hub, and what is now left of it, is made up of 345 hectares of tanks, reservoirs, pipelines and former refineries, inserted into the one of the most urbanized fabrics of Italy.

Around 300,000 residents live in the area considered at risk of a major accident, making eastern Naples one of the Sin points, sites defined as of national interest. But none of the hypothetical reclamation has started. The first program agreement dates back to 2007. Since then, there have been conferences and operational meetings with very little operation to show for it.

The debacle of the numbers was listed this week in the House by the Undersecretary of Environment Silvia Velo, called by M5S Representative Roberto Fico: Since 2007, less than €2 million has been spent, of which €500,000 went to ISPRA and €1.2 million to Sogesid, which is the company controlled by the Ministry of Environment in charge of planning and arranging for the reclamation. But how was the money spent, since the territory has not seen the beginning of the reclamation and thousands of citizens continue living in dire environmental and health conditions?

For 30 years, ever since the refineries were turned off (but the fuel depots are always up and running) the citizens have been waiting for answers, but the only action the government has ever taken is the signing of the 2007 plan.

The story of eastern Naples is also a story of inertia of local institutions: Velo in fact explained that as much as €25 million disbursed went back to federal purses because the region and the City of Naples did not present projects by Dec. 31, the closing date for the bureaucracy. Unfortunately, all the problems of the area remain. Those never lessen, either; they get worse month after month.

But something is happening in eastern Naples. And it is starting from the bottom. Friday afternoon, citizens were summoned by a group of young people of the district, members of various associations, who meet online on the website “Napoli Est brucia.” There’s no political banner: just citizens who have decided to demand health monitoring and that reclamation projects start immediately.

The meeting held at the Town Hall assembly room was being described as “the first step of a journey to demand reclamation, practical and immediate solutions, and above all health monitoring.” Indeed, because the citizens of San Giovanni a Teduccio know very well what kinds of alarming data will emerge. In almost every family there is a case of cancer — aggressive and developing at a young age. But there are no official figures yet, and that’s what the people want.

The air, soil and water of eastern Naples have been literally devastated for decades. Dangerous substances lurk in soils and aquifers: phenols, hexavalent chromium, lead and nickel, to name a few. It is written in black and white in the minutes of the conference of May 2013.

Back in November, the tap water was black and oily. It smelled like gasoline, citizens say. For 24 hours, they did not drink it. Then, in the absence of information and the mayor’s ordinances, life returned to normal and that water was used for the toilets, to cook, to quench their thirst. With what consequences? The public doesn’t know.

In December, the anti-mafia court seized assets for €240 million from the Kuwait company. They are the equivalent of the financial advantage that the oil company would have gained from the non-observance of rules of oily water treatment. That ended with the tax filing without the appropriate de-activation process. Adding pollution to pollution. Environmental damage to sanitary damage.

For citizens, this is the time to say enough. “Eastern Naples burns,” was said yesterday in a packed assembly room. They collected signatures and started a journey. Anyone who registers as a candidate in Naples will have to deal with a bomb that is already exploding.

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