Toxic Neglect in Italy

Tourists who have visited the rolling hills, farms, and vineyards of Tuscany cannot easily forget them. The incredible light and colors linger in memory. Now what will also linger is the toxic and radioactive waste illegally being dumped on hundreds of sites all over Italy.

Italy is facing catastrophic environmental damage from illegal trafficking and dumping of industrial waste from the nation's northern factories. Criminal gangs have seized control over one-third of the waste management business, dumping deadly pollutants with impunity in villages, lakes, rivers, and farmland throughout the country.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the Parliament have done little to stop them. Dumping dangerous waste is only a misdemeanor in Italy. It should be a felony. The country's lawmakers aren't implementing hundreds of European Union environmental regulations that would curb dumping. They should. Rome is underfunding the nation's fledgling environmental protection agencies. The government should provide more money for inspection and enforcement. And the Berlusconi government should end its opposition to the European Parliament's drive to make waste trafficking and dumping a serious crime throughout Europe. Italian magistrates mutter that "too many economic interests" are behind the government inaction.

The truth is that tons of waste are dumped openly in Italy's villages and countryside with little national outcry. Test results for pollution quietly disappear. People are threatened. But there's no political will to fight the criminals.

This will inevitably hurt Italy. The country's biggest economic asset is tourism. Unless its political leaders stop criminals from dumping filthy, dangerous waste over its wonderful countryside, Italy's image will shift from bucolic to toxic, and the tourists will take their money to less life-threatening environs.

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