On 31st October 2013, the office of the Italian president declassified a 1997 transcript of the secret judicial interview of Carmine Schiavone, a mafia member turned informer.
It showed that the Italian authorities had been aware for 16 years that mafia groups had been making colossal sums of money by depositing rubbish – including toxic and nuclear waste – in the countryside of the Campania region, outside Naples.
Photojournalist Yvonne de Rosa has been tracking the desecration of the region for years and tells the story of the conspiracy of silence that turned the region into the dumping ground of Europe. For Delayed Gratification #13, de Rosa talked us through some of her photos.
“The mafia brought in toxic industrial waste from refineries and factories in northern Italy and nuclear waste from Germany to be dumped in illegal landfills, in road foundations, in wells and canals and in the open countryside. It saved the producers of the waste huge amounts of money that they would have had to pay to have it disposed of properly. The mafia’s trucks worked around the clock.”
“In some places where waste has been buried, toxic biogas seeps through the ground. There are also lots of fires because the mafia often set fire to things that might carry clues as to their identity. This caused greater pollution because when you burn toxic waste, dioxins go everywhere.”
“This farmer was angry because his land has been filled with waste. It wasn’t just the big industrial waste from factories that the mafia were dumping. If contractors were redeveloping properties and came across asbestos or other waste, by law they would have to pay to have it disposed of in a specific way. Let’s say this costs €5,000. Then someone comes along and says ‘I can do it for you for €600.’ And it gets dumped somewhere like this farmer’s peach orchard.”
“I took this picture of the road through Acerra because to me it represents how we were all quite unaware of what was going on. Here’s a couple biking around – in one of the most polluted places in the country with one of the highest incidences of cancer – in happy ignorance. And of course keeping people ignorant is the secret of other people keeping power.”
“These policemen stopped me because I was photographing the rubbish that you can see behind them. When I said what I was working on, they said, ‘You know it’s not our fault, what can we do? We have to follow the procedures and we can only do something if we see it happening.’ There is graffiti in the area demanding the army be sent in to deal with the problem if the police can’t.
“I started this project because I’m from Campania. It’s an amazing place which has so much to be proud of but when the mafia polluted it nobody spoke out, nobody did anything, nobody tried to clean the land or stop the pollution. Any person who had the power to do something didn’t. Nobody stopped it because everybody was involved.
“There’s a very strong union between mafia and politicians, and the money from dumping waste made it possible to buy control of local councils. The people who allowed the waste to be dumped were not just being paid off, they were also being threatened. The mafia was going around saying, ‘Would you like to get this amount of money or would you like to be killed?’”
“This is a Roma girl who is growing up in a camp in Masseria del Pozzo, which incredibly enough has been built right on a dump. Biogas is coming from everywhere and kids are playing in the dump and picking things up, eating things. It’s horrible not just because of the pollution but because people are being treated just like rubbish. It’s an image you would not expect to see in Italy.”
“The level of cancer is very high in certain areas of Campania and people are dying. The area has been called ‘The Triangle of Death’, a term coined by Dr Alfredo Mazza in The Lancet Oncology journal. He showed that certain types of cancer were twice as high as the average across the country.”
“I’ve seen this man in many protests, he goes to all of them. His sign says: ‘Murderers with jackets and ties’. He’s referring to the senators in parliament and their inaction on the waste issue. The picture is of his wife, who died of cancer last year, which he believes was a result of the presence of toxic waste in their neighbourhood. They have a young daughter.”
“The effect on the environment has been shocking. In November 2013 it was revealed that local NATO bases had been banned from using public water supplies after the water was found to be contaminated. A study by the National Research Council has shown levels of dioxins in animals reaching up to 13 times above the legal limit. This protester has chosen to show the effect on local produce: it reads ‘Damned Camorra’.”
“So how do we move forward, now Schiavone’s testimony is public? We need to send in the army to stop fires and dumping. We need a proper cancer registry to target resources on affected areas. We need to declare some land unfit for agriculture and to clean up the water supply. And we need to have proper investigations and assign responsibility. These people sold the country and they must be held accountable.”