Italy’s Jobs-and-Pollution Showdown

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my story on the conflict between jobs and health in southern Italy.

The southern Italian city of Taranto’s most distinctive feature isn’t its picturesque coastline, its cathedral, or its castle. It’s the heavy taste of metal in the air—a tang that leaves the unaccustomed visitor with a tingle in the back of the throat, the product of the Ilva steelworks. On one side of the bay stretch manicured sidewalks and coffee shops. On the other loom giant cranes and a forest of chimneys pumping smoke.

Ilva, the largest steel plant in Europe, has set off a conflict in the city of 190,000 between those worried about their health and those desperate to keep their jobs. It’s also put Italy’s government on a collision course with its judiciary, which wants the plant closed.

Over the past decade, environmentalists have exposed alarming levels of pollutants in the area around the plant. In 2008 roughly 2,000 sheep were slaughtered after their milk and meat were found to contain dangerous levels of dioxin. In the blue-collar neighborhood of Tamburi, on the same side of the bay as the plant, homes are infiltrated by a black powder that blows from slag heaps and drifts from smokestacks. Grazia Parisi, a pediatrician who once worked in the area, recalls finding the powder on her desk and examination bed every morning. “I was always washing my hands, washing my hands,” she says. “I left because I was also getting sick.”

Read the rest.