Naples rubbish crisis sparks health fears

ROME, Italy (AP) — The U.S. military in Naples is testing tap water and soil because of health worries from that city’s pileup of sometimes smoldering rubbish.

Samples were taken earlier this month from sinks and yards of residences used by Navy and civilian military employees, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder said Sunday.

The samples were sent to Germany for laboratory analyses, and the results are expected later this month or in early June, Snyder said.

“We just want to take a look at what the potential risks are,” Snyder said in a telephone interview.

She said Navy personnel had been anxious about possible health effects, although no link has been found so far to such complaints as rash or itchy eyes, Snyder said.

A U.S. Navy Web site advised: “We do not know the short- or long-term health risks associated with living in Naples, Italy.”

Collectors stopped picking up Naples’ trash in December because dumps are full.

Tons of garbage is blocking many sidewalks and streets in the center of Naples and its suburbs, forcing residents to sometimes wade through knee-high trash. Angry residents have taken to burning rubbish, knocking over refuse bins and dumping bags of refuse in the countryside.

Hoteliers are complaining that tourists are canceling reservations or checking out early after smelling the stench as the weather warms.

Naples daily Il Mattino reported Sunday that five cargo trains loaded with garbage left on Saturday for Germany. Railway officials declined to comment on the report.

The U.S. Naval Support Activity Web site notes that Navy authorities already in June 2007 asked the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center to help evaluate “potential health risks associated with illegal dumping and inadequate garbage collection” in Naples.

The samples are being analyzed for any presence of pollutants, including pesticides, PCBs, dioxins and metals.

“The evaluation will assess epidemiological factors such as asthma, birth defects and cancer studies,” the Navy said.

Air quality will also be studied, Snyder said.

More than 1,800 personnel and family members live off base and work at U.S. Navy facilities, including a hospital, or at the NATO headquarters in a Naples suburb, she said.

The Naples Doctors Association on Sunday expressed alarm over the potential for disease from mice, cockroaches and other insects thriving in the mountains of garbage.

The group’s president, Giuseppe Scalera, was quoted Sunday by the Italian news agency ANSA as saying that the worst health damage could come from dioxins released from burning trash, which can contaminate farm products.

Earlier this year, mozzarella from the region around Naples were found to contain higher-than-permitted levels of dioxins.

Protests by Neapolitans who don’t want incinerators or dumps opened in their area have hampered efforts to solve the problem. Authorities also blame infiltration by organized crime into the garbage collection service.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi announced he will hold one of his new government’s first Cabinet meetings this week in Naples to signal he intends to get moving on the problem.

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