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Death of Venice: the industrial port of Marghera

Updated on April 14, 2010

The most extraordinary city in the world, ancient, half under water (and sometimes almost all), with its centuries-old buildings, its bridges and wonderful palaces... and that stuff, that industrial monster that, just to look at, screeches like nails on a blackboard. Besides, what do you want? Chemistry is important, employing thousands of people and we live in a world of plastic, look around and tell if you can deny this simple fact? What means the preservation of a beautiful wetland, if compared with economical progress and prosperity, many jobs and opportunities to make money?
To be truly understood, Porto Marghera must be seen from the sea. On a boat, through the waterways channels that pass between factories, between the pipes, between the pavilions: it 's a gleaming factory, the light is blinding, it seems a natural landscape rather than an affront to the community and the environment. The sign of a collapse, which will remain forever in the memory of those who lived - and mostly worked - in this city. It is said that Porto Marghera is the "mother of all contamination" in Italy: because the extent and consequences of environmental disaster, caused by the related activities of the petrochemical plants are yet to be explained and because this system has paved the way and taught the contempt for the environment and for the lives of people who live and work around the large Italian chemical industries. But to understand better, we must see and hear the sad history: in 1869, Venice, and its territories, were annexed by the Kingdom of Italy. The lagoon was always able to defend itself from the activities of men, but this date marks the end of its independence and also the end of the protection of waters, which the government of the ancient Republic had always pursued. Before the construction of the port and the residential area, this place was mostly a swampy and marshy area known as the Botteniga. There were only two way streets across the lagoon and the marshy lands: it was a wild and beautiful place, full of aquatic vegetation and wild fauna, typical of the wetlands...

strange gas in Marghera

During this period a new port was built near the station: the reasons of the economy prevailed on the need to preserve the delicate balance of the lagoon. But what really has affected the lagoon and the city of Venice was the creation, in 1917, of the industrial port of Marghera and the adjacent industrial center. At the time, it was said that "the revival of maritime Venice" needed such works, that the economic recovery of the region depended on the construction of the port and factories. In reality, the capitalist mentality had made his triumphal entry into the life of the lagoon, changing it forever. For centuries, the Republic had pursued a moderate and careful economic development, balancing it with the necessity of an environmental protection, but now reckless and unscrupulous exploitation of natural resources did not have any brakes. The number of industries around the port of Marghera increased even more, like daisies in the meadows in spring...

The twentieth century has only confirmed this trend: during fascism, was built a car bridge that connects Venice to the mainland, and this very building strengthened the incorporation of city in the mainland logic, a logic, of course, that was and still is in direct conflict with any idea of conservation of the lagoon and its treasures. During the years 1930/1940 were dug many artificial canals (which anyone can recognize: they are very different from the natural canals, small and winding and full of charm; the artificial canals are straight, long and unattractive). These canals were and are used for industrial needs, needs that also led to the progressive drainage of many wetlands (more than 4000 hectares were drained in less than sixty years!). Other wetlands were reclaimed from the Venice lagoon system, with the construction of the airport and the Tronchetto, also, more than 3000 hectares were drained to obtain new land to be used for industrial purposes. All this may seem normal, to some may seem justifiable in view of the economic welfare, but this argument is worthless in an area like that of Venice. The balance (and saving) of the city is very precarious, and depends heavily on the sea: the constant tides, (in the lagoon, they rise and fall every six hours), are beneficial for the cleaning and the renewal of the waters, but these tides may become catastrophic if the lagoon system is replaced by a system of artificial canals and lands subject to drainage. Their strength is destructive and the impact on the city and its precarious balance is devastating.
The biggest problem for the survival of Venice and its lagoon system is, from its birth, the industrial area of Marghera. It has been a tremendous growth since the end of the Second World War, Porto Marghera, in particular, was the first industrial zone built in Italy after the war and the first to adopt industrial waste incinerators (two in 1960) and urban (two in 1962). The richness of the lagoon environment (especially birds and plants), one of the four protected wetlands in Europe, together with the presence of one of the greatest Arctic heritage of the world, make the presence of Marghera a pure folly and a clear absurdity. The presence of industries in Marghera alters very seriously the water's quality in the lagoon: these industries are more than 150, and most belong to the chemical or chemical-petroleum area, fifty of them produce waste that is discharged in the sea.

the video above

Mouth of the Grand Canal, seen from a ship on the evening of February 20, 2009. Behind the buildings appears a "worrying" orange light. This is a UFO? is a party going on with the launch of fireworks? or are attacking us?
None of this, are the torches of Marghera petrochemical plant burning waste material!!!

The industrial port, which is visible from the ancient city, annually hosts over 5000 ships, 1100 are oil tankers (what an inquantificabile and incredible damage to the ecosystem and the city itself, if, for bad luck, one of these tankers overthrows its expensive load into the waters of the lagoon...). To realize how great is the madness that has governments in managing the environmental and artistic heritage, just think that until 1960, these oil tankers were allowed to pass through the famous Canal of St. Mark! The industrial and anthropogenic activities, carried out within the lagoon, are causing a considerable contamination by toxic compounds, persistent and bioaccumulative. For some types of pollutants such as PCBs and dioxins, the industrial activities are responsible for the general state of pollution faced by the lagoon. Industrial activities are responsible for issuing about 100,000 t / y of pollutants including over 700 tons of carcinogenic compounds. To this must be added the thousands of tons of waste water containing chlorinated organic compounds and metals.
Are active today in Porto Marghera, in addition to chemical plants:
• 3 gas-fired power
• 1 gas power plant
• 1 coal power plant
• 1 coal-fired electricity + RDF (fuel derived from refuse)
• 1 incinerator of gaseous products
• 1 incinerator for liquid chlorine
• 1 RSU incinerator (MSW: urban solid waste)
• 1 plant for the inerting of RTN (toxic waste)
• 1 Refinery (4 million tonnes of oil processed and handled each year)
• 1 plant for the manufacture of chlor-alkali with storage of chlorine and VCM
• 1500 chimneys that emit toxic substances result of industrial flue gas vents.
A recent analysis of the lagoon showed the presence of an incredible number of toxic substances, some examples are: lead, zinc, hydrocarbons, mercury and even dioxin. From this analysis it is clear that the Venetian lagoon was converted into a private dump for the many industries of the industrial center. You should also think about the environment as a chain composed of different rings, but all closely interrelated: when it rains on Marghera, all the smog and the toxic fumes of all the industries fall on the city of Venice and on the sea, bringing with them their load of poisons. Not only, the fresh water from the mainland, leading to the lagoon the chemical poisons spread on the fields, greatly increases the water contamination. Not to mention the fact that during the last fifty years, the population has increased three times, and it has consequently increased the volume of sewage discharged directly into the sea. All this could not have any consequences: there were numerous incidents of dead fish due to the lack of oxygen in the water and the excessive concentration of harmful elements, several times in recent years happened to witness this sad spectacle in the  canals of the old city and since there is the proliferation of some strange algae, never seen before, very virulent and even harmful to humans, as well as obviously for the ecosystem of the lagoon. Men's health has not been spared: among workers is high the percentage of diseases, most of which are deadly, but also the local residents are increasingly suffering from incurable diseases, the most frequent being the lung tumor.

disappearance of plant species
disappearance of plant species
disappearance of the birds
disappearance of the birds

The overall environmental degradation has led to the contamination of the living organisms of the lagoon, an impoverishment of species with more presence of those adapted to polluted environments. Despite the lagoon's fish resources are used for food, there is a lack of appropriate analysis to determine their degree of toxicity. The only data available about the possible effect of industrial activities and health of the population adjacent to the industrial pole is the incidence of lung tumors in relation to the presence of industrial pollutants.
The problem of the degradation of the largest Italian lagoon and the survival itself of Venice is still subject to scientific and political debate. After nearly half a century of industrial activities with high environmental impact, the lagoon is today a highly contaminated environment in all its components. Despite the large sums of money spent to respond to the emergencies and in a vain attempt to restore the health and the environmental conditions to guarantee the survival of the environmental and artistic heritage of Venice and its lagoon, nothing has been done to eliminate the numerous sources of release of highly toxic and persistent pollutants. Recent research conducted by the Mario Negri Institute of Health have updated the knowledge about the level of contamination of sediments by persistent and toxic compounds like dioxins and similar compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, DDT and other chlorinated organic compounds . The research results showed that the contamination is extensive and is interesting even the historical center of Venice. The result of the analysis done by Greenpeace showed that the activities taking place in petrochemicals industries are responsibles for a strong contamination by dioxins.The need for preventive interventions is a priority, given the extensive level of contamination and its gradual increase.
As everyone knows, the most serious threat to Venice is the sinking, the risk to be swallowed by the sea. Well, the human intervention, especially during the last century, perhaps will ensure that this disaster will be truly realized. The harbors had become larger and the excavation of new channels to promote trades first expelled the contributions of natural materials from the sea to the lagoon and on the other side have made sure that huge amounts of materials, from excavations, were thrown into the sea, thus reducing the layer of sediment that has always helped to maintain the stability of the city, for centuries. The consequence is that the lagoon loses precious sediments continually, also carried by and dispersed by the too frequent passage of ships and motor boats, and, because of this loss, the sea enters more freely into the lagoon and its waters are becoming increasingly deep, the tides increasingly unmanageable and with increasingly catastrophic effects. The pollution has almost completely exterminated  useful and not harmful algae, which assured the stability of the seabed of the channels, and replaced them with harmful algae that are pollutants themselves. The polluted water in the lagoon has also an another harmful and irreversible effect: those waters have an erosive effect on the foundations of homes and foundations of buildings and streets. Water has now crossed the Istrian stone, waterproof, which is located above the wooden structures of the foundations, and now the corrosive water has reached the porous surfaces of buildings and palaces that are literally crumbling day by day. This is the greatest danger, that the earth is swallowed by the sea and that is exactly what is happening. Probably this is due to general increase of the level of the Adriatic Sea, in connection with the rise of the sea due to global warming; certain is that the digging of 6000 wells , an undersea pipeline, frequent and numerous withdrawals from the aquifer for any industrial purpose have largely contributed to the lowering of the ground on which Venice is situated. Moreover, the stank lagoon and the groundwater sub-lagoon are dried up by the turbines of the industries: one among the true and decisive causes of the sinking of the city. Throughout the modern age, it has done very little for the conservation and defense of this unique wetland, the internal waters of the lagoon and the bay of Venice are not even taken into account, rather all interventions, public and private, have focused only on the economical profit and growth without even thinking at all about the health and the safeguarding of the the natural habitat and the health of the citizens, living in this area. Venice and the industrial area of Marghera are one of the best examples of the conflict between economic reasons and environmental reasons. Venice is considered a World Heritage Site, to be carefully protected, thousands of tourists visit this enchanting city every year and yet the most of them are unaware of the giant monster, called Marghera, which is located nearby: yes, nothing was done to save this gem of nature and culture.


The bitter tears of porto Marghera

 I'm sorry, the above video is only in italian, but I strongly recommend its vision, because the images are very striking...

"The Bitter Tears of Porto Marghera (2007)
... In memory of the workers in Porto Marghera, so that their deaths are not forgotten."


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