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Mothers of Eco-mafia victims appeal to president

Napolitano emotional when asked to fight toxic-waste mobsters

22 January, 18:40
Mothers of Eco-mafia victims appeal to president (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, January 22 - A group of mothers led by their parish priest and carrying photos of their dead children rallied outside Rome's presidential palace Wednesday, demanding action against the powerful Naples-based Camorra mafia and its lethal burning of toxic waste.

"He must promise he will not to abandon us," said one of the mothers calling for help from President Giorgio Napolitano in dealing with the severe environmental and health crimes created by the mob.

"We have other children who want to grow," added Anna Magri, who has also taken part in a postcard campaign begging for Pope Francis to intervene.

"We ask (Napolitano) to do everything that is in his power".

Efforts thus far by the Italian government to fight the environmental crimes of the so-called Ecomafia in an area dubbed the "terra dei fuochi" or land of fire in the southern Campania region, are not enough, said Father Maurizio Patriciello of Caivano, just north of Naples.

He travelled to the Quirinal Palace with the group of mothers of children killed by pollution-linked cancer to lobby Napolitano for his help. Napolitano, who is from Naples, struggled to control his tears during a meeting with the demonstrators, and promised "attention" to the issue, Patriciello said later.

"He was moved, with tears in his eyes and his voice choked with emotion," described Patriciello.

"He had to interrupt and stop for a minutes," as mothers told their stories, added the priest.

The Camorra has long infiltrated every part of the rubbish collection industry and has raked in huge profits even as its illegal dumps and uncontrolled burning of waste and other toxic materials have been blamed for unusually high levels of cancer and other disease linked to pollution that will plague future generations.

In particular, its disposal of toxic waste including burning in the southern Campania region and the area between Naples and Caserta - the land of fires - has led to very grave health warnings. The crisis has also caught the attention of Pope Francis, who in November telephoned a nun teaching in the poverty- and mafia-ridden town of Casal di Principe that lies in the midst of the land of fires.

She was among 150,000 people who sent the pontiff a postcard with a photo of the kids who have died of cancer in this area - an action organized by Patriciello - and Francis responded by calling her on her cell phone while she was in the middle of class, creating great excitement among the students.

In December, the Italian government passed a decree called the land of fires measures, which makes burning waste a crime in an effort to reclaim land where toxic waste is burned by the mafia.

It also said more recently that it wants to use the army to stop the dumping of toxic waste in the area between Naples and Caserta.

But such measures still do not address the underlying problems, and there is not yet enough attention paid to the significant health concerns created by the toxic waste burning, said the demonstrators.

"Health care is the part that is missing in the (government's) 2013 decree," said Patriciello.

"The fires are not finished and will never end...The real issue is what and who burns, and who is responsible".

Although families do not want to leave their homes in southern Italy, "the whole system is not working anymore," added Patriciello, who blamed "the poverty and misery" of the region that he said fuels the Camorra.

Mafia infiltration of waste disposal has become a major environmental and health issue as hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste - some of it dangerously contaminated - has been illegally dumped in what some have described as an ecological time bomb that will continue to poison the land for at least another 50 years.

In many cases, hazardous or toxic waste has, in clear violation of environmental laws, been dumped in landfills that are not properly sealed with the result that waste materials seep into the soil and aquifers.

According to environmental group Legambiente, 14% of environmental crimes in Italy take place in Campania, where 6,000 illegal waste fires and 2,000 toxic dumps were reported between January last year and August 2013. The creation of the Ecomafia and the illegal trafficking of waste was exposed in the bestselling book Gomorrah.

The author of that book, Roberto Saviano, also exposed the criminal empire of the Casalesi, one of the most powerful families in the Neapolitan mafia, and as a result has been under police protection because of death threats.

His book Gomorrah was later turned into an award-winning film of the same name and documents the mob's deadly hold over rackets and businesses ranging from toxic-waste disposal to construction, drugs and even the garment industry.