How the Mob Turned Southen Italy into a Toxic Wasteland
How could this happen? How was it possible to bury so much toxic waste that it became difficult, if not outright impossible, to make the soil arable again?
For 30 years various companies from Northern Italy have contracted out the disposal of their waste to apparently legal firms that are actually run by the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia. These firms are able to give enormous discounts to their clients, which, in the region's current economic situation, can mean the difference between the survival and failure of a venture.
According to the Anti-Mafia District Directorate of Naples, Italian stakeholders (the middlemen between industrial waste producers and disposal companies) in 2004 were able to guarantee that 800 tons of hydrocarbon-contaminated soil, property of a chemical company, would be disposed of for the price of 25 cents per kilo, transport included. That's an 80 percent discount on normal prices, made possible by a variety of cut corners. Though the companies that use these methods are guilty of despoiling the land, they are legally protected because their fixers produce what appears to be legal documentation showing the waste cycle has been respected.
The mob magically transforms loads of toxic waste into innocuous garbage that can be sent to landfills by doctoring waybills, or packing slips. It works like this. Each barrel of industrial sewage is accompanied by a document that states the level of toxicity of the substances. The companies that wish to save money turn to a middleman who ships the sludge to a storage center. There, all it takes is a simple stroke of the pen to modify the waybill so the contents of the load appear to be ordinary refuse. Another step taken at the storage centers to save money is mixing the toxic waste with harmless trash to dilute the concentration of toxins and lower its classification in the European Waste Catalogue's scale of hazardous wastes.
The cost-conscious middlemen also have a more obviously criminal way to dispose of the trash: combustion. They burn tires, clothes, plastics, and copper cables lined with insulation. They stack pyres with every kind of waste imaginable. By incinerating it, they decrease its mass and mix the ashes into the soil.