‘Acqua tossica’

As with any city, water is an integral flow which must be closely monitored as it circulates the city. Water is crucial for various reasons, such as drinking water, basic sanitation, and agriculture, which is especially important for Naples (Swyngedouw et al. 2002; Senior and Mazza 2004). In the case of Naples, its flow of water has been significantly impacted by its ongoing waste crisis, having disastrous impacts on both human and natural life. This blog entry aims to understand the implications the waste crisis has had on this critical urban flow. 

Who owns Naples’ water?
Before we delve into the implications of the waste crisis on Naples’ water, we first must understand who owns the water. In the late 2000s, Berlusconi’s presidency saw attempts to privatise Italy’s water supply to boost efficiency and distribution (D’Alpaos 2018). However, many individuals were against the privatisation, especially in southern regions like Campania, Calabria and Sicily, where poverty is rife. Thus, following referendums and disputes, the country finally returned water to public ownership in 2011. Under renationalisation, Naples’ water was transferred to public ownership under Acqua Bene Comune Napoli; a branch of Naples’ municipal government (Massarutto et al. 2008). However, many argue that due to years of private water ownership, Naples’ water pollution problem went mostly unnoticed due to rampant corruption and the Camorra’s monopoly across businesses and government (Saviano 2007). Could Naples’ water contamination issue have been circumvented if there was more robust governance from the state?

Driving forces of poor water quality: 
So, I speak of water pollution being a problem in Naples’, so what exactly caused this? Well, everything comes back to the illegal waste dumping. As I stated earlier, large amounts of industrial waste have been dumped across the Naples metropolitan area. As a result of this unmonitored waste disposal, water has become contaminated by heavy metals like arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene (Bortone et al. 2015). Likewise, as waste has been dumped in underground caves, groundwater has subsequently become contaminated with the same heavy metals. The shallow water table in Tufino and Montecorvino Pugliano enables chemical residue to easily infiltrate into the water table (Mazza et al. 2015; 2018). Heavy metals and industrial waste have also been able to enter surface water supplies through surface runoff following rainfall events, speeding up the contamination of Naples’ water supply (Ibid 2015).

A man standing by a river in Naples, which has been littered with both industrial and household waste (photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

Implications of water contamination:
The implications of Naples’ water contamination issue have been severe. As the city relies on groundwater and water from Western Campania, its drinking water supply has become contaminated. Even though the level of heavy metals are not as high as they were during the height of the crisis, water contamination has been disastrous for Campania’s agriculture industry. Given that areas near Naples rely on agriculture and grazing, officials have prohibited groundwater use, as levels of heavy metals were found to be 4.2 times above safe limits (Bortone et al. 2015). The runoff of heavy metals has also managed to enter the Gulf of Naples and other surface water stores, impacting fragile aquatic ecosystems (Troldborg et al. 2009). Even though the situation has improved significantly, the fear amongst Neapolitans is still like it once was. During my time in Naples, I realised that many Neapolitan’s distrust the water that flows through their taps. I recall my Airbnb host telling me that the ‘acqua tossica’ or ‘toxic water’ should only be reserved for sanitation purposes. Upon reflection, I did not think much of what my host told me as many cities suffer from poor water quality, but in retrospect, I think his perception of Naples’ water supply was shaped by events he saw unfold in his city. 

Without a doubt, the waste crisis has impacted every aspect of Naples. Despite the crisis being less severe than it once was, its impacts are irreversible. This entry has highlighted how the city’s water supply has become contaminated as industrial waste has infiltrated ground and surface water supplies. This contamination has therefore meant groundwater has been prohibited for agricultural use. Water contamination has also created significant distrust amongst Neapolitans and their city’s water supply, which should not be the case in the world’s eight wealthiest nation.

References: (10)

Bortone, I., Chianese, S., Erto, A., Nardo, D. A., Natale, D. M., Santonastaso, G. F. and Musmarra, D. (2015) ‘Risk analysis for a contaminated site in North Naples (Italy). Chemical Engineering Transactions, 43, 1927-1932

D’Alpaos, C. (2018) ‘The privitsation of water services in Italy: make or buy, capability and efficiency issues’. In Mondini, G., Fattinnanzim, E., Oppio, A., Boterro, M. and Stanghellini, S. (eds) Integrated evaluation for the management of contemporary cities, Berlin: Springer

Iengo, L. and Armiero, M. (2017) ‘The politicisation of ill bodies in Campania, Italy’. Jounal of Political Ecology, 24, 45-58

Massarutto, A., Paccagnan, V. and Linares, E. (2008) ‘Private management and public finance in the Italian water industry: a marriage of convenience? Water Resources Research, 44:12, 1-17

Mazza, A., Piscitelli, P., Neglia, C., Rosa, G. D., Iannuzzi, L. (2015) ‘Ilegal dumping of toxic waste and its effect on human health in Campania, Italy’. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12:6, 6818-6831

Mazza, A., Piscitelli, P., Falco, A., Santoro, M. L., Colangelo, M., Imbriani, G., Idolo, A., Donno, D. A., Iannuzzi, L. and Colao, A. (2018) ‘Heavy environmental pressure in Campania and other Italian regions: a short review of available evidence’. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15:1, 105

Saviano, R. (2007) Gomorrah. Italy’s other mafia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Senior, K. and Mazza, A. (2004) ‘Italian “triangle of death” linked to waste crisis’. Reportage, 5, 525-527

Swyngedouw, E., Kaïka, M. and Castro, E. (2002) ‘Urban water: a political-ecology perspective’. Built Environment, 28:2, 124-137

Troldborg, M., Binning, P. J., Nielsen, S., Kjeldsen, P., Christensen, A. G. (2009) ‘Unsaturated zone leading models for assessing risk to groundwater of contaminated sites.’ Journal of Contaminated Hydrology, 105:2, 28-37

4 thoughts on “‘Acqua tossica’

  1. I really enjoyed this post. Having visited Naples myself, I had no idea that water quality was a problem. I like the way you highlighted the historical context of water in Naples as it makes it clear how a legacy of private ownership has long-term ramifications for water quality even though water is back in public hands. I wonder if you have considered what the long-term prospects for the city’s water are and if residents or local authorities have shown any indication of reducing water contamination from industrial waste. I look forward to reading more about Naples!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Arun, thanks for the comment. I think the water quality is a lot better and in most cases it is safe to drink. However, it all comes down to public perception and what Neapolitans think about the city and its water supply. The situation is not a bad as it once was, and the local government has been fairly effective in reducing waste (by relying on their neighbours to process their waste). I don’t feel that Naples’ water problem will be solved without reinstating confidence in their population over the long term, which will obviously be very difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there, am just adding this comment from our feedback session in October since I finally worked out how to post it! 🙂

    Your posts start off with a very interesting perspective that grabs the readers attention – I dont think many of us are aware of Naples’ waste issue ! And good job further elaborating on the 2nd post 🙂 I can also see that you are definitely connecting your content / issues on the environment very well with the political side of things, which is the P in UPE haha 🙂 I don’t really see anything I’d immediately notice could be improved really ! Maybe try breaking up the text a bit more with a couple more subheadings and pictures, that way we can have more visuals of the city as well ! (29/10/2020)

    Liked by 1 person

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