Clean Trees In Naples: When Ecology Invades Mob Territory

Outside of Naples, researchers have turned land polluted by illegally-dumped chemicals into a living laboratory.

Planting trees in Giugliano
Planting trees in Giugliano
Filippo Femia

GIUGLIANO — Thousands of poplars run parallel, in neat rows. The sun illuminates their thin trunks. Looking at this wood of Giugliano, in the northern outskirts of Naples, it may seem impossible that the Camorra, the local mafia, poured polluting liquid waste from tanneries here. Yet tests have revealed the presence of chromium, zinc and cadmium, a heavy metal that is highly toxic to humans even in minimal concentrations.

This area was scarred for decades by Camorra clans and is at the center of what is known in Italy as the "Land of Fires', an area notorious for garbage fires that burn along the sides of public streets, in pastures and agricultural fields, and before public monuments. Most of this burning has been attributed to Camorra clans, who have for decades used the territory for illegal dumping of chemical waste as well as for managing dumps.

But the Giugliano area is slowly coming back to life thanks to a revolutionary research project by the University of Naples Federico II. The Campania-based project is called Ecoremed and is funded by the European Commission. It was launched in 2012 as a response to a legislative gap, the result of a 2006 decree that regulates the management of waste and the reclamation of polluted sites but excluded agricultural land, which was to be regulated by a later decree. The follow-up legislation was only signed at the end of 2017 and has never come into force.

Effective and affordable

The person behind the project is Massimo Fagnano, professor of agriculture at the Federico II University. He was looking for eco-friendly remediation techniques for polluted land, such as the illegal landfills in the Campania region. In a few months, his team of approximately 100 researchers (medical doctors, geologists, engineers, biologists and chemists) developed a new method using the phytoremediation technique.

The costs? Very high.

Trees — mainly poplars and eucalyptus — are planted to neutralize heavy metals. They absorb the metals, fixing them in the wood of the trunk and the roots and preventing the contaminants from reaching the water table. It is a technique that does not involve the use of chemicals. It also contributes to a circular economy: the wood can then be used as biomass to produce energy.

In the past, two main techniques were used to clean up soil from contaminants. In some cases, the soil was removed, as far down as the contamination went, and then taken to landfill and treated as special waste. The costs? Very high. The other option was to secure the area with a sort of cement cage that would stop the passage of polluting agents through the soil, and then build on it. The costs for this technique were also high: several million euros per hectare.

2012 fire in the Land of Fires area — Source: Associazione Culturale Voce per Tutti

"Ecoremed's solution provides a sustainable, low-cost and green alternative without destroying the soil. And it provides the population with a new ecosystem," says Fagnano.

Relatively speaking, it's a bargain. Costs are 10 times lower than with traditional techniques. "Profit has nothing to do with this technique," says Antonio Di Gennaro, an agronomist involved in the project. "The application manual for this technique is free and can be downloaded from our website. We hope the technique will be used in other cases too."

Leading by example

The new approach also has to do with the diagnosis. Analyzing the results of the different soil samples, the experts found out that the agricultural land was not as contaminated as originally believed. In reality, of the 33,000 hectares that make up the Land of Fires, only 33 hectares have been sealed off — a percentage close to zero.

At the beginning, many were skeptical about Massimo Fagnano's team. Then Ecoremed became a virtuous example in the region: a green laboratory that also has a social and cultural mission. Many schools go on trips to visit the reclaimed sites. Where there was degradation and a wounded ecosystem, now there is a stronghold of legality.

This is the lesson for our children.

"We show children that the population can regain possession of territories looted by the Camorra, interrupting the chain of illegality on forgotten farmland," explains Fagnano.

Other projects related to Ecoremed have turned some illegal landfills into parks or soccer fields, green spaces that are much needed but are too often replaced by illegal construction. "The wounds that our territory has suffered over time are not curses without remedy," says Di Gennaro. "They can be treated with competence, culture, and civilization, so that nothing similar happens again. This is the lesson for our children."

Ecoremed has worked in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture of the Campania Region, with the Campania region Environmental Protection Agency (ARPAC), and with Risorsa, a small research company. The breakthrough came in May 2018, when the European Commission picked Ecoremed as one of the nine most outstanding projects in the environmental field.

Now a memorandum of understanding is being discussed with Campania's regional reforms commission to extend the model to the rest of the region.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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