|The refinery in Gela.|
Everyone in the Sicilian town of Gela knows someone who has been hit by the health crisis that has gripped the town for decades.
Mortality rates are higher than elsewhere on the island, and the town has an unusually high rate of birth defects, including the highest rate in the world of a rare urethra disorder.
“There were tragedies that happened daily in the city,” said Luigi Fontanella, an Italian lawyer who began gathering testimony on the health of Gela’s 70,000 residents in 2007. “Everyone in Gela had a relative, a friend and often a child suffering from serious ailments.”
Fontanella found that hundreds of children had been born with congenital anomalies including hypospadias – the urethra disorder – cleft palates and spina bifida.
Local people have long blamed pollution. A 2011 study by the Italian health service drew a similar conclusion: dozens of babies were dying in the womb or within a week of being born every year from complications caused by environmental contamination. More