In a warning to all irresponsible companies, Italian authorities recently arrested 18 executives and managers of the Italian chemicals firm, Enichem. The company was discovered to be pouring deadly toxic waste directly into the environment with the full knowledge of the company bosses. Ten Enichem employees have been jailed while the others are under house arrest.
The investigation began last September when a group of residents
observed an unusual red tinted waste stream flowing into the sea
out of a pipe used by the Enichem factories in Priolo and Gela,
Sicily. Local authorities pursued the lead, sampling the discharge
and tapping Enichem's phone lines. Listening to phone conversations
the investigators discovered that Enichem managers knew about the
illegal discharge but simply did not care - despite the fact that
mercury concentrations found in the waste waters were up to 20,000
times higher than legal limits.
The Enichem plants manufacture chlorine which is used in the
manufacturing of Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM). VCM is the building
block of the common plastic, PVC, but is also a potent cancer
causing chemical. The plants are located in a petrochemical complex
where health studies have shown a disturbing trend of illnesses and
birth defects in the nearby communities. Babies born near the
industrial area have a five times higher chance to be born with
birth defects. Heart disease around the area is also 5 times the
national average and there are increased levels of cancer among men
living in the area.
Local groups including doctors have taken legal action against
Priolo industries, but until now no one has attempted to reverse
the situation or better understand the role of industrial pollution
in the case of human health problems. In the past workers at the
Enichem plant have complained about exposure to harmful chemicals
from air emissions. Last year, public prosecutors shut down
electricity production inside the chemical plant for illegally
burning hazardous waste.
A quick look at the Eni Group's web site provides a glimpse into
the display of hypocrisy and greenwash so typical of today's
corporate public relations: "The safeguard of health, the safety in
the workplace and in the management of productive plants and the
protection of the environment are major objectives for Eni in the
strategies and plans of the Group. This choice is in accordance
with the conviction that Eni's economic development is compatible
with the respect for nature and the well-being of people."
But words are cheap and do nothing to heal the devastation
caused by the birth of a malformed baby or a man stricken with
cancer in the prime of life. It certainly did not help the
surviving families last year when Enichem and Montedison were
acquitted of charges for mass manslaughter of 260 workers who died
from cancer and other illnesses as a result of exposure to VCM in
the town of Marghera in northern Italy.
Enichem's claims of ignorance concerning the toxicity of the
chemicals it used and produced in Marghera merely reinforces the
desperate need to make corporations responsible and liable for the
safety of the chemicals they produce and release into the
For arrested Enichem executives Giuseppe D'Arrigo, Giuseppe
Rivoli and Gaetano Claves, there is now plenty of time to
contemplate whether it really was worth cutting costs and risking
other people's lives to make a profit.