Environmental disaster in Italy

Just emerging from the fog of jet-lag after the long flight back from New Zealand via Singapore.  I hadn't even managed to unpack my suitcases when a friend, laden with shopping bags of bottled water, told us the unwelcome news that our water supply was contaminated with a poisonous - and possibly radioactive - substance called Thallium.  Out for a pizza, since there wasn't anything in the cupboard and I was too woozy to cook anyway, we had missed the police touring the streets the previous evening with loud-hailers as well as the television warnings.

But it's all on the internet.  Thallium is used as a rat poison - and also extensively in mining and industrial processes.  Here, in Pietrasanta, we're directly below some of the marble 'caves' and quarries.  The water, which we believed was pure - and tastes beautiful - comes down from the mountains.  Many of the 'caves' have big tailing ponds outside, so there's some local speculation that the recent catastrophic floods caused by extreme rainfall on Wednesday have caused contamination of the aquifers that supply drinking water. But it may be something else entirely.  No-one knows.

Most of Carrara was underwater after 6 inches of rain fell in few hours.
What's even more worrying is that the contamination was apparently first revealed by a private individual who (for reasons we don't know) paid to have his water tested and then blew the whistle. Who knows how long we've been drinking poisoned water?

So now we're forbidden to drink it, told not to use it in food preparation or cooking and advised not even to brush our teeth with it!  Water dowsers are being parked up in the piazzas and other public places and we have to fill containers from them.  Restaurants and bars have big problems.

Retained water, outside a quarry in the Alpi Apuane, used in the marble cutting process.
Quarrying on Mount Altissimo
If the source of the pollution proves to be the mining industry it will certainly add to the big campaign here to stop the destruction of the Alpi Apuani by extensive marble quarrying.  The mountains are being mined from within and also from the summit down, as in the picture above, where Mount Altissimo is being taken down block by block. But this is all speculation at the moment and we may never know where the contamination came from.

Carrara and the Mediterranean from the quarried out Alpi Apuane
This is such a beautiful place, but it just illustrates what damage human activity is doing to the planet - poisoning the eco-sytem that supports us.  The water problem will cost a great deal of money to put right, which will probably in the end have to be funded by the Italian people, not the water company that supplies it.  Italy is in deep economic trouble already.  There were demonstrations in Viareggio yesterday against hikes in nursery fees, school buses and school meals; demonstrations in Carrara (which was devastated by the recent 'bomba d'aqua') against the lack of action in providing flood defences.
I'm flying back to northern England tomorrow (brrrrrrrr......) leaving behind a difficult situation - but at least I'll be able to drink the water.  Though recent revelations leaked to the press about the state of the Sellafield Nuclear Processing Plant's containment tanks make me worry that the pristine environment of Cumbria's Lake District could soon be compromised.  Human beings simply can't be trusted with dangerous chemicals.


  1. People and the lack of care-full systems. Short cuts, short term thinking. Tragic.


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