Thank you for (not) smoking: a story from Matera
Emissions from cement plants put citizens’ health and the environment at risk, but local communities are hard to hear
Outside the southern Italian city of Matera, at the entrance of a natural area protected by the European Commission, there is a plan to promote biodiversity, where the cement kiln Italcementi stands. The factory has been active for more than 40 years, posing a serious hazard to air pollution and citizens' health in the area.
In the past decade, as a consequence of the 2008 global financial crisis, cement kilns have found a dangerous way to increase profits: burning cheaper materials. Since then, Italcementi has reduced the amount of methane used in the cement production process and switched to using petroleum coke, plastics and other more polluting materials. Since 2010, Italcementi has applied to the Basilicata region to increase the amount of fuel derived from municipal solid waste from 12,000 tons per year to 60,000 tons per year.
Local communities strive to be heard
Local communities and associations, such as Legambiente, WWF Matera and Comitato no Inceneritore (no incineration committee), have been aware of the risks caused by emissions and have not been indifferent to this request. They have strengthened their actions through many campaigns and initiatives to make people aware of this danger. While reaching a consensus among citizens, they managed to collect signatures to introduce several municipal petitions. However, the Matera city government has never reviewed these petitions.
In November 2017, the area ignored the concerns of thousands of citizens and authorized the cement kiln to increase the amount of waste considered to be non-recyclable and non-hazardous in the cement production process by 48,000 tons per year. Although such a decision complies with the emission limit allowed by cement kilns (the law allows cement kilns to burn three times as much as "classic" incinerators), it does not take into account the health problems of citizens and the accumulated environmental variables are also related to the factory’s 40 years of activities. Related)-all of this happened in an area that should be protected.
Take legal action
As confirmed by Comitato No Inceneritore Chairman Mimmo Genchi, before this failure, local associations gathered to gather their ideas and communicate their voices to the organization. Through the "Grazie Non Fumi" ("Thank you for not smoking") initiative, they raised funds to fund a legal action brought in the Administrative District Court of Basilicata, which will show its results in May 2018. The lawsuit also involved the municipalities of Santeramo and Montescaglioso in neighboring countries, such as Matera, who feared the health of their citizens and deafness.
Regional councillors Gianni Leggieri and Gianni Perrino also filed a complaint with the Matera prosecutor, while European Parliament member Piernicola Pedicini brought the case to the attention of the European Commission. The focus of the trial is that fuel derived from municipal solid waste should be subject to European legislation on the registration, valuation and final authorization/restriction of chemical products. European legislation cannot continue to ignore facts that are harmful to citizens at the local level, especially when the relevant municipality does not act in accordance with the demands of its citizens.
Facts have shown that until now, the methods used by cement kiln owners and municipal solid waste producers as an effective solution to this type of waste accumulation are becoming very unhealthy and very expensive in all respects. picture.
The use of municipal solid waste fuels in cement kilns will increase the emissions of heavy metals that are harmful to human health. Due to its non-biodegradable nature, heavy metals will eventually enter the food chain and accumulate in biological tissues, causing chronic diseases. The most predictable victims of this pollution are children because they spend more time outdoors and their respiratory system is still taking shape.
The huge impact that this emission has already had is quite worrying in Matera, because the initiative approved in the region will increase emissions by 400% and affect 15,000 hectares. To make matters worse, this situation occurs in an area that not only has cultural, tourism and gastronomic interests, but also has specialized farming and farming establishments.
The suspicion of the municipality and the lack of protection in European legislation is even more unreasonable, because there have been cases showing that cement kiln emissions are harmful to health and the environment.
When it comes to burning waste in incinerators and cement kilns, it is not enough to comply with EU emission limits, because health-related variables are rarely considered in the decision-making process when setting limits.
New, forward-looking policies are needed at the national and European levels to go beyond incineration practices and promote more sustainable alternatives. Policymakers have the responsibility to ensure respect for the waste hierarchy established by the EU as the pillar of the EU waste policy, and to lay the foundation for a zero waste strategy that responds to citizens’ concerns and protects health and the environment.
“Policy makers have a responsibility to lay the foundation for a zero waste strategy to respond to citizens’ concerns and put the protection of health and the environment first.”
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Thank you (not) smoking: a story from Matera-20/04/2018