Thursday, October 23, 2014

Marathoners Face Menacing Beijing Smog on Race Day

Despite heavy pollution blanketing Beijing on Sunday, an international marathon went ahead, with face masks and sponges among the equipment used by competitors to battle the smog.
The 34th Beijing International Marathon began at Tiananmen Square with many of the tens of thousands of participants wearing face masks. The 26-mile course ended at the Chinese capital's Olympic Park, on a day when buildings across the city disappeared into the gray-tinged mist.
"Actually, on a normal day, nobody would run in such conditions," said participant Liu Zhenyu, a computer engineer. "But the event is happening today, so what can we do?"

Image: Runners jog past Tiananmen Gate shrouded in haze Andy Wong / AP
Runners wearing masks to protect themselves from pollutants jog past Chang'an Avenue shrouded in haze while taking part in the 2014 Beijing International Marathon in Beijing, China on Oct. 19.
About 30,000 people were expected to take part in the marathon and the half-marathon. The organizing committee made 140,000 sponges available at supply stations along the marathon route so runners could "clean their skin that is exposed to the air," the Beijing News reported.
The air Sunday was deemed severely polluted, according to the real-time monitoring of Beijing's environmental center. It was the most serious level on China's air quality index, and came with a warning for children, the elderly and the sick to stay indoors, and for everyone to avoid outdoor activities.
The U.S. Embassy, which tracks the Beijing air from a monitoring station on its roof and uses a different air quality index, said the air was hazardous. It gave a reading of 344 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 particulate matter. The World Health Organization considers 25 micrograms within a 24-hour period a safe level.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Extremely Rare White Rhino Dies in Kenya—His Kind Nearly Extinct

The 34-year-old Suni was one of two breeding males of his subspecies left on Earth.

The youngest male rhino, Suni at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on Nov. 19, 2010.
Suni, seen here at Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy in November 2010, died at age 34.
Photograph by Barcroft Media, Getty Images
Christine Dell'Amore
The northern white rhinoceros is one step closer to extinction with the death of Suni, one of only two breeding males left of his kind.

The 34-year-old animal was found dead October 17 in his enclosure in Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy, possibly from natural causes, the reserve said in a statement. White rhinos are thought to be able to live up to 40 or 50 years. An autopsy is under way, but officials are certain poachers did not kill Suni, as the animal was monitored around the clock. (See "1,000+ Rhinos Poached in 2013: Highest in Modern History.")

The death of the rare creature, which had not fathered any offspring, leaves only six northern white rhinos left on Earth, including just one male of that subspecies. The southern white rhino, a related subspecies, is considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Born at the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, Suni had been an emblem of hope: He was one of four of the world's eight remaining northern rhinos sent to the Kenyan conservancy in 2009 as part of a last-ditch effort to save the critically endangered subspecies.
So far, it hasn't worked. "It's a shame the subspecies got to that point—that's the worst-case scenario in trying to bring back a subspecies," said Matthew Lewis, senior program officer for African species conservation at WWF.
The northern white rhinoceros is a "victim of evolution," Lewis added—it was a remnant population cut off from the southern white rhinoceros by the Great Rift Valley and the dense forests of Central Africa.
Already isolated and occurring in low numbers, the northern subspecies got caught up in political turmoil in Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda, and its numbers quickly dwindled because of poaching and habitat loss. (Related: "Why African Rhinos Are Facing a Crisis.")
"Not Just Another Charismatic Animal"
With just one breeding male left, the outlook for the subspecies is grim. Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, now considers the animal basically extinct.
That "we've lost [the subspecies] is a statement of just how bad off large animals are across Africa," said Pimm, who is also a contributor to National Geographic's News Watch blog. "It's a measure of the fact that rhinos are being massively poached and in trouble wherever they are."
From African lions to elephants, many of the continent's megafauna species are plummeting in number due to poaching and other human causes. (See a map of the international illegal trade in rhinos.)
"It also means we're losing this distinctive, important animal within the savanna ecosystem," he said.
Rhinoceroses are key to keeping grasslands healthy, as they eat—and keep in check—particular species of savanna plants.
"It's not just another charismatic animal—it's also a species that has a very clear ecological role, and we need to be very worried that we have lost that," Pimm said.
The youngest male rhino, Suni at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on Nov. 19, 2010.
Suni takes a walk in November 2010 at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where he moved in 2009 from his birthplace in the Czech Republic.
Photograph by Barcroft Media, Getty Images
Rhino Lessons
The story of the northern white rhinoceros is "a fantastic lesson on what not to do, and how we need to avoid getting to this point with the other rhinos," Lewis noted.
The black rhinoceros, which has four subspecies, is doing relatively well, though widespread poaching for the animals' horns, which are used in Asian traditional medicine, continues to flourish, he said.
Conservationists are now focusing their efforts on ensuring the safety of these animals and reducing the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries such as Vietnam. (Read "Rhino Wars" in National Geographic magazine.)
But scientists aren't ready to give up on the northern white rhino entirely, he added.
For instance, if the last breeding male doesn't mate, scientists may be able to breed the northern white rhino females with the southern subspecies.
That would preserve some of the genes of the northern white rhino, even if the genes are mixed with those of their relative.
And the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is still on the case.
"We will continue to do what we can to work with the remaining three animals on Ol Pejeta," the reserve said in a statement, "in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf."
Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google+.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Michigan Landfill to Take Radioactive Fracking Waste

A landfill in eastern Michigan was ready to accept up to 36 tons of low-level radioactive fracking waste last week that had already been rejected from two other states, according to the Detroit News.
A number of local residents, as well as the Michigan director of the Sierra Club, expressed public safety concerns about the pending shipment, including the possibility of groundwater contamination.
As of Monday, it was not clear whether the waste had actually arrived at Wayne Disposal, the facility designated to accept it.

The waste originated from Range Resources, an oil and gas company with drilling operations in Washington County, Pa. The waste had previously been rejected from a landfill in western Pennsylvania this year after heightened radiation was detected.

Range Resources then took the material to a landfill in West Virginia, but was stopped when the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection sought more information and instituted new rules tightening the state’s management of radioactive drilling wastes.

According to a spokesperson for Range Resources, the radioactivity levels in the material measured between 40 and 260 microrems per hour and were not detectable a few feet from the source.
Wayne Disposal received approval from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to accept the material in 2006. According to Brad Wurfel, a DEQ spokesperson, the material’s radiation levels were not high enough to be considered a public health threat.

Wurfel added that sending the material to a facility such as Wayne Disposal – where it could be treated and disposed of properly – was actually an example of responsible operation.

Earlier this year Range Resources applied for a Pennsylvania “beneficial use” permit to use gas well drilling waste rock material as paving material, noting that it would benefit the environment by reducing the amount of mined aggregate needed and the amount of waste material sent to landfills.
Oil and gas companies have been under increased scrutiny of late as the result of radioactivity showing up in wastewater from gas field landfills.

Photo Credit: Michigan Sign via Shutterstock

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Another Ebola challenge: Disposing of medical waste in Los Angeles and Irvine CA

One Ebola patient treated in a U.S. hospital will generate eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste a day
Incineration is recommended for Ebola medical waste, but it's illegal in California and other states
Southern California hospital group on Ebola: 'We fully expect that it's coming our way'
A single Ebola patient treated in a U.S. hospital will generate eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste each day.
Protective gloves, gowns, masks and booties are donned and doffed by all who approach the patient's bedside and then discarded. Disposable medical instruments, packaging, bed linens, cups, plates, tissues, towels, pillowcases and anything that is used to clean up after the patient must be thrown away.
Even curtains, privacy screens and mattresses eventually must be treated as contaminated medical waste and disposed of.
Dealing with this collection of pathogen-filled debris without triggering new infections is a legal and logistical challenge for every U.S. hospital now preparing for a potential visit by the virus.
In California and other states, it is an even worse waste-management nightmare.
Though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend autoclaving (a form of sterilizing) or incinerating the waste as a surefire means of destroying the microbes, burning infected waste is effectively prohibited in California and banned in at least seven other states.
"Storage, transportation and disposal of this waste will be a major problem," California Hospital Assn. President C. Duane Dauner warned Sen. Barbara Boxer in a letter.
Even some states that normally permit incineration are throwing up barriers to Ebola waste.
In Missouri, the state attorney general has sought to bar Ebola-contaminated debris from a St. Louis incinerator operated by Stericycle Inc., the nation's largest medical waste disposal company.
Because of restrictions on burning, California hospital representatives say their only option appears to be trucking the waste over public highways and incinerating it in another state — a prospect that makes some environmental advocates uneasy.
Under federal transportation guidelines, the material would be designated a Class A infectious substance, or one that is capable of causing death or permanent disability, and would require special approval from the Department of Transportation, hospital representatives say.
"These are some pretty big issues and they need some quick attention," said Jennifer Bayer, spokeswoman for the Hospital Assn. of Southern California.
"We fully expect that it's coming our way," Bayer said of the virus. "Not to create any sort of scare, but just given the makeup of our population and the hub that we are, it's very likely."
The Ebola virus is essentially a string of genetic material wrapped in a protein jacket. It cannot survive a 1,500-degree scorching within an incinerator, or the prolonged, pressurized steam of an autoclave.
"The Ebola virus itself is not particularly hardy," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said under questioning on Capitol Hill recently. "It's killed by bleach, by autoclaving, by a variety of chemicals."
However, CDC guidelines note that "chemical inactivation" has yet to be standardized and could trigger worker safety regulations.
California health officials recently tried to reassure residents that the state's private and public hospitals were up to the task and were actively training for the possible arrival of Ebola.
"Ebola does not pose a significant public health risk to California communities at the present time," said Dr. Gil Chavez, an epidemiologist and deputy director at the California Department of Public Health. "Let me tell you why: Current scientific evidence specifies that people cannot get Ebola through the air, food or water. ... The Ebola virus does not survive more than a few hours on impervious surfaces."
It was unclear whether California officials viewed the waste issue as a potential problem.
Although a third of the state's private hospitals and "a few" of its public hospitals reported to Boxer's office that there would be problems complying with the CDC's incineration recommendation, and others, a state public health official told reporters he was not aware of any conflicts.
Dr. David Perrott, chief medical officer for the California Hospital Assn., said there was also confusion about whether infected human waste could be flushed down the toilet.
"Here's what we've heard from the CDC: It's OK," Perrott said. "But then we've heard from some sources that maybe we need to sterilize it somehow and then flush it down the toilet or you have to check with local authorities. It sounds maybe a little gross, but there is a real question about what to do with that waste."
Dr. Thomas Ksiazek, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, has said he believes there's been a lot of overreaction on the topic of Ebola medical waste.
"There are other ways to deal with the waste; autoclaving would be chief among them," Ksiazek said. "The problem is most hospitals don't use it for most disposable items. They're quite happy to bag them up and send them to a regular medical disposal company."
But Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said incineration was simple and effective and should be available to hospitals to help dispose of the mountain of waste.
Hershkowitz said states began to crack down on medical waste incineration years ago because many materials that did not need to be burned were being sent to combustors and were emitting dangerous pollutants.
In the case of Ebola medical waste, he said California should reconsider its restrictions.
"There's no pollutant that's going to come out of a waste incinerator that's more dangerous than the Ebola virus," Hershkowitz said. "When you're dealing with pathogenic and biological hazards, sometimes the safest thing to do is combustion."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

How are contaminat​ed liquids from ebola waste handled?

Manager at Biosafety Consulting, LLC
Emory University Hospital has been mentioned as bleaching (contact time 3-5 minutes perhaps) otherwise un-described containers of liquid patient wastes, then flushing into the sanitary sewer system after consultation with their POTW. It could have been they were adding bleach to the toilets.

I have not seen any information on Nebraska, NIH facilities, nor Texas Presbyterian arrangements for same. One article mentions that Texas packed the liquids into the 55 gal drums with solid wastes for incineration

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm a Hazmat-Trained Hospital Worker: Here's What No One Is Telling You About Ebola


Ebola is brilliant.

It is a superior virus that has evolved and fine-tuned its mechanism of transmission to be near-perfect. That's why we're all so terrified. We know we can't destroy it. All we can do is try to divert it, outrun it.

I've worked in health care for a few years now. One of the first things I took advantage of was training to become FEMA-certified for hazmat ops in a hospital setting. My rationale for this was that, in my home state of Maine, natural disasters are almost a given. We're also, though you may not know it, a state that has many major ports that receive hazardous liquids from ships and transport them inland. In the back of my mind, of course, I was aware that any hospital in the world could potentially find itself at the epicenter of a scene from The Hot Zone. That was several years ago. Today I'm thinking, by God, I might actually have to use this training. Mostly, though, I'm aware of just that -- that I did receive training. Lots of it. Because you can't just expect any nurse or any doctor or any health care worker or layperson to understand the deconning procedures by way of some kind of pamphlet or 10-minute training video. Not only is it mentally rigorous, but it's physically exhausting.
PPE, or, personal protective equipment, is sort of a catch-all phrase for the suits, booties, gloves, hoods and in many cases respirators worn by individuals who are entering a hot zone. These suits are incredibly difficult to move in. You are wearing several layers of gloves, which limits your dexterity to basically nil, the hoods limit the scope of your vision -- especially your peripheral vision, which all but disappears. The suits are hot -- almost unbearably so. The respirator gives you clean air, but not cool air. These suits are for protection, not comfort. Before you even suit up, your vitals need to be taken. You can't perform in the suit for more than about a half hour at a time -- if you make it that long. Heat stroke is almost a given at that point. You have to be fully hydrated and calm before you even step into the suit. By the time you come out of it, and your vitals are taken again, you're likely to be feeling the impact -- you may not have taken more than a few steps in the suit, but you'll feel like you've run a marathon on a 90-degree day.
Getting the suit on is easy enough, but it requires team work. Your gloves, all layers of them, are taped to your suit. This provides an extra layer of protection and also limits your movement. There is a very specific way to tape all the way around so that there are no gaps or "tenting" of the tape. If you don't do this properly, there ends up being more than enough open pockets for contamination to seep in.
If you're wearing a respirator, it needs to be tested prior to donning to make sure it is in good condition and that the filter has been changed recently, so that it will do its job. Ebola is not airborne. It is not like influenza, which spreads on particles that you sneeze or cough. However, Ebola lives in vomit, diarrhea and saliva  -- and these avenues for infection can travel. Projectile vomiting is called so for a reason. Particles that are in vomit may aerosolize at the moment the patient vomits. This is why if the nurses in Dallas were in the room when the first patient, Thomas Duncan, was actively vomiting, it would be fairly easy for them to become infected. Especially if they were not utilizing their PPE correctly.
The other consideration is this: The "doffing" procedure, that is, the removal of PPE, is the most crucial part. It is also the point at which the majority of mistakes are made, and my guess is that this is what happened in Dallas.
The PPE, if worn correctly, does an excellent job of protecting you while you are wearing it. But eventually you'll need to take it off. Before you begin, you need to decon the outside of the PPE. That's the first thing. This is often done in the field with hoses or mobile showers/tents. Once this crucial step has occurred, the removal of PPE needs to be done in pairs. You cannot safely remove it by yourself. One reason you are wearing several sets of gloves is so that you have sterile gloves beneath your exterior gloves that will help you to get out of your suit. The procedure for this is taught in FEMA courses, and you run drills with a buddy over and over again until you get it right. You remove the tape and discard it. You throw it away from you. You step out of your boots  --  careful not to let your body touch the sides. Your partner helps you to slither out of the suit, again, not touching the outside of it. This is difficult, and it cannot be rushed. The respirators need to be deconned, batteries changed, filters changed. The hoods, once deconnned, need to be stored properly. If the suits are disposable, they need to be disposed of properly. If not, they need to be thoroughly deconned and stored safely. And they always need to be checked for rips, tears, holes, punctures or any other even tiny, practically invisible openings that could make the suit vulnerable.
Can anyone tell me if this happened in Dallas?
We run at least an annual drill at my hospital each year. We are a small hospital and thus are a small emergency response team. But because we make a point to review our protocols, train our staff (actually practice donning/doffing gear), I realized this week that this puts us ahead at some much larger and more notable hospitals in the United States. Every hospital should be running these types of emergency response drills yearly, at least. To hear that the nurses in Dallas reported that there were no protocols at their hospital broke my heart. Their health care system failed them. In the United States we always talk about how the health care system is failing patients, but the truth is, it has failed its employees too. Not just doctors and nurses, but allied health professionals as well. The presence of Ebola on American soil has drawn out the true vulnerabilities in the health care system, and they are not fiscally based. We spend trillions of dollars on health care in this country -- yet the allocation of those funds are grossly disproportionate to how other countries spend their health care expenditures. We aren't focused on population health. Now, with Ebola threatening our population, the truth is out.
The truth is, in terms of virology, Ebola should not be a threat to American citizens. We have clean water. We have information. We have the means to educate ourselves, practice proper hand-washing procedures, protect ourselves with hazmat suits. The CDC Disease Detectives were dispatched to Dallas almost immediately to work on the front lines to identify those who might be at risk, who could have been exposed. We have the technology, and we certainly have the money to keep Ebola at bay. What we don't have is communication. What we don't have is a health care system that values preventative care. What we don't have is an equal playing field between nurses and physicians and allied health professionals and patients. What we don't have is a culture of health where we work symbiotically with one another and with the technology that was created specifically to bridge communication gaps, but has in so many ways failed. What we don't have is the social culture of transparency, what we don't have is a stopgap against mounting hysteria and hypochondria, what we don't have is nation of health literate individuals. We don't even have health-literate professionals. Most doctors are specialists and are well versed only in their field. Ask your orthopedist a general question about your health -- see if they can comfortably answer it.
Health care operates in silos -- we can't properly isolate our patients, but we sure as hell can isolate ourselves as health care workers.
As we slide now into flu season, into a time of year when we are normally braced for winter diseases, colds, flus, sick days and cancelled plans, the American people has also now been truly exposed to another disease entirely: the excruciating truth about our health care system's dysfunction -- and the prognosis doesn't look good.
Note: In response to some comments, I would like to clarify that I am FEMA-trained in level 3 hazmat in a hospital setting. I am a student, health guide and writer, but I am not a nurse.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to Dispose of Fluorescent Tubes Safely

How to Dispose of Fluorescent Tubes Safely thumbnail
Long-lasting fluorescent tubes must be handled carefully during installation and disposal.

Fluorescent tubes serve as an energy-efficient alternative to incandescent light bulbs, but they contain low levels of toxic mercury which can be released into the air or water if the tubes are broken. That can lead to short-term health risk for exposed individuals and lasting environmental damage to soil and water. To minimize that risk, government agencies have established easy to follow guidelines for the safe recycling or disposal of fluorescent bulbs and tubes.

Things You'll Need

  • Original fluorescent tube package
  • Plastic packaging tape
  • Plastic trash bags
we  can supply at very affordable pricing,
    • 1
      Contact your municipal or county government center for information about fluorescent tube recycling programs in your area. Recycling pickup of toxic materials may occur only a few times a year in your community, so you may need to store your used fluorescent tubes temporarily.
    • 2
      Store used fluorescent tubes in a closed container, such as the tubes' original cardboard packaging or a large plastic trash bag. Many local recycling or environmental regulatory agencies recommend sealing the storage container or bag prior to pickup.
    • 3
      Place the sealed container of old fluorescent tubes in your trash receptacle for regular pickup if no other options exist. Do this only if your local waste agency does not incinerate its garbage.
eWaste Disposal, Inc 949=466-8857 Los Angeles/ Orange County

Tips & Warnings

  • Some states or local regulatory agencies require individuals to take fluorescent tubes to an authorized recycling center or hazardous waste disposal site.
  • Contact lighting retailers in your area to see if they offer their own disposal or recycling options.
  • Be careful when handling fluorescent tubes. If breakage occurs, remove people and animals from the area at once. Safe cleanup guidelines can be found online and by calling your local city or county government center.

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fluorescent tubes recycling irvine picked up 100 tubes in the "Ranch" for disposal

Q&A: Greg Kahn on Exposing Toxic Threats in Italy

Have you ever tracked how much waste you create during a week, or even a month? Every time I clean my house or walk down a neighborhood street I marvel at the sheer amount of waste we create. But where does it all go? And what happens when large companies, ones that use tons of toxic chemicals, are not forced to dispose of waste in safe, healthy ways? In Campania, Italy, the toxic waste situation has become so dire that children and adults alike are developing rare cancers. Photographer Greg Kahn set out to document this issue in a country that is simultaneously beautiful and torn apart by organized crime and governmental failure. I corresponded with Kahn over email and asked him about his project which he calls “The Sleep of Reason,” after a famous Goya etching called “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”
Picture of woman in butcher shop
A woman sells pig intestines along the side of the street in Melito, one of the towns seeing a spike in cancer rates linked to toxic dumping.
JANNA DOTSCHKAL: How did you first find out about the waste dumping problem in Italy?
GREG KAHN: I first heard about toxic waste dumping in southern Italy from a good friend who is working in Naples. As we talked about environmental issues, he relayed what he had seen and heard about toxic waste dumping north of where he lived and I began researching. I read as much as I could about the issue, and then contacted a gentleman named Antonio Giordano, who heads a cancer research center in southern Italy, and teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. He relayed first-hand accounts of witnessing dozens of children in hospitals with rare brain cancers—the kind that only 1 in 100,000 get. But seven children in a town of 40,000 developed the same rare cancer. This town is located in an area next to a large, illegal toxic waste dump that was recently unearthed.
Picture of teenager with lymphoma
Anna Pouti, 18, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in July 2011, on her birthday.
JANNA: What compelled you to work on this story?
GREG: Before embarking on this project, I imagined Italy as fairly idyllic—rolling hills, sun-covered vineyards, and fertile farmland. This story seemed to fall through the cracks of international public attention. It was covered initially in foreign media when Carmine Schiavone, a member of a Mafia family in the Campania region, went to authorities and told them about “millions of tons” of toxic waste buried deep in the earth in what once was some of the most fertile farmland in Italy. I wanted to see how this legacy of poisoning the ground was impacting the communities. There is a psychological torment every time families cook dinner, take a shower, or venture outside and breathe. Even the air is contaminated. Instead of focusing on the Mafia, I wanted to focus on the culture, and examine how a once beautiful part of the world had become something of a modern wasteland.
Picture of piles of trash near orchard
Industrial waste lies on the outskirts of farmland in the Campania region of Italy. Toxic by-products without proper disposal seep into the soil causing unknown damage.
JANNA: Why focus on Italy? Isn’t toxic waste dumping an issue in other countries?
GREG: What’s been shocking to me is this problem isn’t necessarily worse than in other parts of the world, but it’s as bad as developing nations that don’t have the same resources as Italy. In the Campania region, piles of garbage line the highways, farmland, and playgrounds. Heaps of waste and industrial by-products sit under overpasses, and are torched in large fires that billow poisonous black smoke. It’s not uncommon to see mounds of asbestos lying along the highway and appliances—stripped of their copper and recyclables—scattered about the countryside. Suddenly, this wasn’t just a story of the Mafia inflicting catastrophic damage to a region, but a systemic cultural issue of waste disposal. Piles of waste from a variety of sources, including residents and local businesses, are all covered with thin layers of soil. They look like tumors on the land.
Picture of carnival ride
An empty carnival ride at the Villaggio Coppola public beach. The water at the beach is next to where the Regi Lagni canal system dumps the runoff from the buried toxic waste into the sea.
JANNA: Is the waste issue widespread, or is it concentrated in pockets? What do the areas surrounding Campania look like?
GREG: There are two separate views of the issue. One is cosmetic. It’s the piles of trash visible from the road, or the columns of black smoke that can be seen for miles, drifting over communities every day during the warm months. But the more serious consequences come from what isn’t experienced by sight or smell. The Mafia concealed their crimes, burying the waste so far below the ground that it’s mixing with the water table. And because the Mafia didn’t keep any records of illegally burying the industrial waste, the hospital waste, and everything in between, the whole area is affected. No one knows which crops have been growing on top of dump sites, or which ones have been irrigated with contaminated water. Families I talked to had their own theories about what was causing their illnesses. Some blamed the food, while others pointed at the water or air. No one had any answers, and it adds to the public’s frustration not only with the Mafia, but with the government as well.
Picture of teenagers under shrub
Teenagers watch the annual protest to mark the murder of Giuseppe Diana, a local priest that instructed his parishioners to shun the Mafia, in Casal di Principe, a stronghold of the region’s Mafia, the Camorra.
JANNA: What do you hopes do you have for this project, moving forward?
GREG: In the short term, I want this project to lead to action in the region. There is plenty that can be done to reverse the current situation. And although there is no magic potion to cleanse the land, healing can start by ending the continuous dumping of toxic materials. But even the cleanup is jeopardized. Some Italian officials worry that the Mafia now own all the companies tasked with cleaning dump sites, generating profit for the Mafia by fixing a problem they caused. And no one would be surprised if the waste was then simply moved to another location instead of being disposed of properly.
Picture of fennel discarded in soil
Harvested scraps of fennel lie on the soil of a farm less than a mile from an industrial incinerator in Acerra. The controversial incinerator is blamed for burning toxic materials mixed in with regular garbage and poisoning the crops on the farms surrounding it.
In the long term, I hope this project is used to talk about the problems concerning waste disposal worldwide. As the world’s population and the demand for raw materials increases to support the growing public, it is crucial to find a set of responsible solutions for waste disposal. Southern Italy’s situation isn’t only Italy’s problem, because flowing water or drifting air currents don’t respect political boundaries.
Picture of woman with oxygen mask in hospital
A patient recovers from surgery after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Recently, in areas where the Mafia is suspected of dumping toxic waste, there has been a spike in respiratory as well as breast and pancreatic cancer.
JANNA: Is there a good solution to the toxic waste problem?
GREG: There is no easy or quick solution to the problems facing the Campania region in Italy. Waste education and cultural practices need to be changed. A major obstacle I see is a lack of organization to combat the issues. Some farmers voluntarily take soil samples to clear their crops from being labeled poisonous. Others don’t, for fear of jeopardizing their livelihood. Some residents pay $400 to send hair samples to testing labs in the United States to check for heavy metal accumulation in their bodies. But not everyone can afford testing. And while the initial efforts are scattered and disorganized, there is a groundswell of reaction to the growing health and environmental crisis. “It’s here now, but it can be anywhere,” Luisa Crisci, a mother that lost her child to a rare brain cancer, said. “The problem is 30 years old, the difference is that we’re aware of it now.”
Picture of researchers in lab
Technicians at a cancer research lab in Mercogliano test treatments on cancer cells to study potential strategies for dealing with the disease.
JANNA: What is remarkable about people’s response to this situation?
GREG: What struck me the most was that there were still many people all over Campania who were not resigned to their circumstances, but instead, kept pushing back against Mafia control. The Mafia are the ones with overwhelming power and money, inflicting consequences of their greed on others. But every year on March 20, thousands gather at the entrance to Casal di Principe, a stronghold of the Camorra, and march through the narrow streets with signs, chanting that they will not be intimidated. It’s a demonstration to commemorate Giuseppe Diana, a local priest that was murdered for telling his parishioners to shun the Mafia. Every year, the protest ends with a rally at Father Diana’s grave giving a sense of purpose to the community that things can be changed.
Picture of government official and media
Gian Luca Galletti, the minister of the environment in Italy, leaves a church in Caivano after talking with angry residents demanding action in dealing with the toxic dumping crisis. Residents have been critical of the Italian government for not doing enough to combat the Mafia’s illegal dumping.
Greg Kahn is a founding member of Grain, a photography collective. View more of Grain’s work and ongoing projects on their website. You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram.
Follow Janna Dotschkal on Twitter and Instagram.