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Sardinia: Militarization, Contamination and Cancer in Paradise


By Helen Jaccard, WarIsACrime.org

Need to test some new weapons?  Bomb paradise!
The sound of bombs, missiles, and other explosions; massive attacks from the sea onto the beach; an epidemic of cancers and birth defects; soil, air, food and water contaminated with heavy metals, jet fuel and other poisons; and national and company secrets that prevent the residents from learning the truth:  Is this a modern war zone?  No – Sardinia is the victim of weapons manufacturers, polluting military activities and a political system that cares about power and money over the health of people and the environment. 

Sardinia and it’s People
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea – a paradise with diverse wildlife and beautiful beaches.  Alice Scanu, a Sardinian environmental engineer and activist said, “We are peaceful people, poor ones maybe, but very welcoming. That's how I'd like Sardinians to be remembered, not as people involved in wars and power games.”  In the rural areas are shepherds and farmers who make magnificent wine, honey, and cheese. 

Military Use of Sardinia
For over 50 years Sardinia has been used by militaries and arms manufacturers to:

·       test new bullets, bombs, missiles and drones
·       train soldiers and pilots
·       practice war scenarios
·       explode, burn and bury old weapons and dangerous chemicals
·       launch bombing sorties

Seventy percent of Italian military bases are located here, and Italian, NATO, and U.S. bases occupy about 1/3 of the area of the island’s land and sea. During military practice drills, the area closed to navigation and fishing increases to about 7200 square miles, almost 2 times the island surface. 

Quirra, Teulada and Capo Frasca testing and firing ranges
The worst of the pollution, cancer, and birth deformities is in the firing ranges.  In these huge areas in Southern Sardinia, militaries and weapons manufacturers:

·       test-fire artillery rockets, drones, and laser-guided precision bombs, including at least one depleted uranium weapon and missiles that release asbestos and white phosphorus
·       test the effects of explosions and fires on armor and pipelines
·       dispose of tons of old weapons and chemicals, by explosion or burial   
·       perform air and naval “exercises”, holding mock attacks of the coast

Contamination:

·       large quantities of buried waste containing cadmium, lead, antimony, and napalm
·       high levels of lead on several beaches and in the water
·       explosions of waste and weapons from past wars affecting areas up to 2000 square meters each that no longer support vegetation – each explosion produces as much pollution as an incinerator of municipal solid waste during one year - exposing communities, shepherds, base personnel and animals to toxic dust containing thorium, lead, cerium and cadmium
·       Thorium, a radioactive and highly carcinogenic heavy metal used in military targeting systems has been found in Sardinian honey, milk, and other areas of the food chain.
·       Pieces of bombs, missiles, and bullets are lying on the ground and in the sea.
·       Unexploded ordnance lies in and around the restricted areas, including both land and sea. 

Health effects:

·       Birth Defects: Between 1988 and 2002 fourteen children were born with severe malformations in Escalaplano, a small village of 2400 people bordering the Quirra base.
·        Malformed animals: two-headed lambs, calves with deformed legs, a pig with one huge grotesque eye – problems not normally seen here.  A tissue sample from a malformed lamb was found to contain depleted uranium.
·       Cancer:  In a village with 150 inhabitants, 12 people died from leukemia in 2002, with 63 in the past decade. In the previous decade (1990 – 2000), there had been no cases of leukemia or lymphoma among this same population. 65% of workers on seven of twelve farms located near the Quirra base are suffering from serious cancer.  Rates of lymphoma, thyroid cancerand autoimmune diseases are also unexpectedly high.

John Madeddu worked in the Capo Frasca base from 1968 to 1987.  He has diffuse large cell lymphoma.  He remembers an area where a large number of bullets accumulated in a clearing.  When it rained it created a marsh and the

water seeped into the ground.  The artesian wells provide water for both the base and the nearby farms.  This kind of contamination has continued to build over the years with no clean-up effort undertaken.  Animal deformities are common near the bases.  Cattle still graze here and even if directly hit and killed by weapons containing heavy metals these animals are being butchered and eaten.

Francesco Piras died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 27 in 2007 after serving for 10 months at Capo Teulada.  At the hospital, doctors asked him if he had been in contact with radioactive materials. Dr. Antonietta Gatti, Experimental Physicist at the University of Bologna, took biopsies of Francesco’s tissues and discovered high quantities of nanoparticles of industrial heavy metals.

A shepherd analyzed the situation with clear, shocking realism: "I have leukemia, I have only a few months or years of life, I accepted it. Nobody cares about us, and we just do not count for anything.  They are powerful; it is better for them if there are fewer of us.”

The sheep are still grazing on contaminated land and the local people sell sheep cheese and grapes for a living.

Investigation and Prosecution:

On May 12, 2011, State Prosecutor Domenico Fiordalisi opened a court case to stop all military use of the Quirra base. Hundreds of shepherds and farmers demonstrated against the case because they might lose use of their land.  They do not want a handout for unemployment; they just want their land to be uncontaminated and available. 

The nuclear physicist Evandro Lodi Rizzini of Brescia University and CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) found elevated levels of radioactive thorium 232 and cerium (proving that the thorium was man-made) in the tissues of 15 of 18 bodies of Quirra-area shepherds who died of cancer between 1995 and 2000. 

On March 24, 2012 Fiordalisi indicted twenty people on charges of "willful omission of precautions against injury and aggravated disasters or because they falsely certified the absence of pollution with the aim to "hide the environmental disaster.”  The documents from Fiordalisi’s investigation have now been turned over to a tribunal for prosecution.

Decimomannu, the largest NATO air base contaminating the water supply
Decimomannu in Southwest Sardinia has the largest NATO air base in the world, used since 1954 as collaboration between Italy, Germany, Canada, the United States and NATO. From here they support transport aircraft of the Military Airlift Command from the United States to the Middle East and Africa.  A total of 4 F-18s, along with a single Boeing 707 refueling aircraft was deployed to Decimomannu Air Base on the island of Sardinia for operations over Libya.

The military base of Decimomannu has been contaminating the environment with jet fuel and other poisons. Jet fuel contains xylene, benzene and lead, highly dangerous and carcinogenic substances.  Mayor Louis Porceddu in February 2011 prohibited the use of the local wells.  The authorities deny responsibility and expertise. An alleged reclamation has already cost 900,000 Euros, although no problem has been solved.  Monica Pisano of the Decimomannu Civic Committee “Su Sentidu” said, “It is absolutely ineffective, since it is useless to reclaim the territory if the spill continues!”

La Maddalena / Santo Stefano islands
La Maddalena is an archipelago located 2 km Northeast of Sardinia.  The population of 17,000 swells to 75,000 during the summer, when the tourists come to enjoy the campgrounds, beautiful beaches and lovely hiking trails.

From 1972 to 2008 a U.S. / NATO base on Santo Stefano Island served as the home port for nuclear submarines.  In 2003 the nuclear powered submarine U.S.S. Hartford struck a rock and damaged its rudders, sonar and electronics. However, residents suspect that even greater damage was done.

Massimo Zucchetti, Professor at the Department of Energy at the Torino Polytechnic and his team analyzed algae in the archipelago.  The presence of radioactive alpha particles and plutonium traces were found, sometimes in high concentrations.  This contamination is due to either a continuous loss of pollutant from the submarine base, or to environmental releases that took place during the USS Hartford accident.On January 20, 2004, the “schwäbische Zeitung”newspaper reported that there was an alarming high amount of radioactivity in the waternear La Maddalena Island.

Cause of Cancers
Dr. Antonietta Gatti, Experimental Physicist at the University of Bologna, found nano-particles of iron, lead, tungsten, and copper in the tissues of citizens and sheep. She said, “Rain leads to the contamination of the soil. Through air pollution, other areas that are not involved in the testing are contaminated as well… The sea is polluted. Local governments do not warn people when there are testing activities; they do testing even at night.”

Fernando Codenesu, Professor at the Department of Energy at the Torino Polytechnic, explained that Sardinia has rocks that are very fragile and contain heavy metals.  An explosion breaks the rocks into micro and nano-particles containing these heavy metals.  These in turn are blown in the wind, contaminate the groundwater; people and animals breathe them into their bodies.

Health Effects of Depleted Uranium and Thorium
What are effects of depleted uranium and thorium - elements that emit alpha particles on the body?

Dr. Rizzini said, “One micro-gram, that is, one millionth of a gram is sufficient to kill a person.   It causes a rise in atomic disintegrations; with a production of 2000 alpha rays a day, nuclear radiation is most damaging.”

The organizations International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons and Mother Earth have good information about depleted uranium.

Demands of the people

·       Transparency and truth – reveal what chemicals and metals have been used.
·       Close all of the bases and radar facilities – completely de-militarize the island.
·       Clean and decontaminate the bases and land, aquifers and sea around them.
·       Provide health care to all people affected by military activity on the island
·       Provide financial assistance and clean land and sea to farmers and fishers

Political Action

Cagliari – Monthly Rally with Cancer Victims and their Families
There is a monthly rally against the bases on the 15th of each month in Cagliari.  It is organized by victims of cancer and their families and those opposed to military use of Sardinia.

Committee of Parents of Fallen Soldiers in Times of Peace
Parents of deceased children (who had done their military service in Sardinia and in the Balkans) founded the organization “Comitato Genitori Vittime uranio impoverito” (Committee of Parents of Fallen soldiers in times of peace).  Giancarlo Piras (father of Francesco) says,   “Here in Sardinia, we are confronted with war victims but in a peaceful area. We like to call this area the zone for preparing new wars”.  He points out that existing law is that the government needs to know what kind of weapons/materials have been tested in the bases. The reality is that none of the armies give information about the tests and hide under the umbrella of ‘military secrecy’.  

Protests Prevent New Radar Installations
There are about 15 radar stations on the island, on the top of the mountains surrounding the bases.   Many fear that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by them is dangerous and want their use stopped. 

People are now demonstrating against construction of several more radar sites.  Local officials and the Italian Party Partito Democratico have now spoken against some of the proposed radar sites as well.    As a result, plans for four of them have been abandoned.

Fishermen Bring Naval Exercises to a Halt
Since the 1990s fishermen have been pushed out of their profession by NATO naval exercises and have become activists for their right to use the sea.  There were acts of civil disobedience at the port, the base entrances, and at sea.  Stubbornly, daily, when the wind allowed it, the fishermen challenged the restrictions and the bombs, directing up to 42 boats into the heart of the war game area and threw their fishing nets in a prohibited sea saturated by war ships.    Fortunately, it only takes one civilian boat to stop a naval exercise.

Their demands are simple: the right to safe work, to have the stolen sea back, and to have a clean sea and environment.

2005 was the last year of protest.  The fishermen are now paid to stay out of the water and many have abandoned their profession.

Italian Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) calls for closure or conversion of bases
In an encouraging new development in March 2012, Senator Gian Piero Scanu called for closing the bases in Capo Frasca and Capo Teulada, and for changing the Quirra base back to its previous designation as a technical-scientific research center.  This letter was signed by over 100 Senators of many political parties.

Media coverage
The Sardinian newspapers have published articles about the deformities and high rates of cancer, so everyone on the island is aware of this problem.  L’Union Sardo has been particularly good about publishing articles regarding the cancer, birth defects, contamination, and military use of Sardinia.

What can you do?

·       Spread the word about Sardinia.  More information is available here where the original 7500-word research document is stored. Also here as a PDF.
·       Contact your congressional representatives and demand the closure of the Sardinia NATO bases.
·       Carry signs or flyers at demonstrations demanding that NATO stop bombing Sardinia.
·       Contact Helen Jaccard at Helen.Jaccard@gmail.com to discuss ideas.

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Sad and hideous. Sardinia is magnificently beautiful. When I was there, I spent time on the southeastern part of the island, not the southwestern, so I had no idea this was going on. Thank you for bringing it my attention.

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