Poisoned Shipments; February 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by Madhusree Mukerjee; 2 Page(s)
In October 2009 the government of Italy announced that a wreck discovered off the southwestern tip of the country is the Catania, a passenger vessel sunk during World War I—and not the Cunski, a cargo ship loaded with radioactive waste, as alleged by district authorities from nearby Calabria. Few locals are reassured, says Michael Leonardi of the University of Calabria. He and others maintain that the putative Cunski is still out there and is just one of numerous ships full of poisonous garbage that a crime syndicate has scuttled in the Mediterranean Sea. Such a startling allegation, if true, would not only damage the tourism and fishing industries along this idyllic coast but also compromise the health of Mediterranean residents.
Processing and safely storing waste from the chemical, pharmaceutical and other industries can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars per ton—which makes illegal disposal highly profitable. According to the Italian environmental organization Legambiente, some waste shippers that have operational bases in southern Italy have been using the Mediterranean as a dump. While acknowledging that “no wreck has yet been found that contains toxic or radioactive waste,” physicist Massimo Scalia of the University of Rome, La Sapienza, who has chaired two parliamentary commissions on illegal waste disposal, argues that other vidence makes their existence “beyond reasonable doubt.”