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Triangle of death: Surge in cancer cases in Italy linked to illegal dumping of toxic waste
The name of cardiologist Dr Alfredo Mazza, today a still-boyish 40, became known across Italy and beyond seven years ago when, in a report published by The Lancet Oncology, the British cancer journal, he came up with the term "Triangle of Death" to describe the zone bounded at its eastern extreme by his home town and to the west by Marigliano and Acerra, 8km and 17km away respectively.
His research revealed that in this area the incidence of some types of cancer is massively higher than elsewhere in Italy. Across Italy, on average, 14 males in every 100,000 die of liver cancer; here, it was 35.9. The incidence of bladder cancer was nearly twice as high, of leukaemia 30 per cent higher. And though he could not prove it, he believed there was an explanation. "Two hundred and fifty thousand people in the region have been exposed to toxic pollutants for decades," he said. "Pollutants in the air, water and in produce from the area are well above regulation levels."
As the thousands of factories, refineries and other industrial plants of the north prospered through the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s, some unacknowledged boss – a gangster, an influential businessman, perhaps a powerful politician – hit on a cunning way to give the industries of Italy a unique edge over competition anywhere else on the continent. Instead of paying exorbitantly to have their toxic waste disposed of correctly by specialist companies, they would pay organised crime to truck it away and simply "lose" it. The gangs would take charge of the whole thing: their well-educated, white-collar members would iron out the bureaucratic issues, faking the paperwork, paying off any official busybodies, paying off also the owners of the land where the toxic waste ended up. The manufacturers, refineries and the rest paid the gangs only a fraction of what it would have cost to get the job done safely and legally.
The Camorra took delivery of the waste and brought it down to their own backyard – not to the densely populated streets of Naples but to the agricultural hinterland, "Campania felix". They dumped it anywhere and everywhere: in the fields, in old wells, in worked-out quarries, in or around canals, in caves. Sometimes they simply buried the loaded trailers or containers underground. Sometimes they mixed the waste with soil and scattered it on the fields. This went on for years and because the k Italian state, especially in the south, is notoriously lax, for a long time no one was any the wiser.