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Saturday 2 November 2019

Photo Essay

Italian tumour

The land around Naples has been a dumping ground for decades. Now its people face a cancer epidemic

By Massimo Berruti

Once, the lands around Naples in Italy were a model for the rest of the world. The quality of its produce and food helped to popularise the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, both of which were regarded as particularly healthy.

But, today, the land is poisoned. Its people – and particularly its children – are in the middle of a cancer epidemic. Some experts predict that it will get worse over the next 50 years, and that communities may even have to be evacuated.

The cause, for the most part, is rubbish. During the past three decades, local criminals – the Camorra – have buried tens of millions of tonnes of industrial, toxic and even radioactive waste that has come from northern Italy and further afield in Europe. Regional authorities and the national government have mostly turned a blind eye. The great fires that have been started to burn the waste have only compounded the problem.

In 2013, when a report including testimony from the former Camorra boss Carmine Schiavone was declassified, the horrifying scale of the situation became apparent. Schiavone said that toxic materials could infiltrate the region’s water supply, leading to “all dying by cancer”.

It is already happening – and people are responding and resisting. A growing network of well-organised committees is appearing on the streets, pressing the government for a fast solution to be found and discussed.

So far, despite many promises, little has been done in this direction.

In the town of Boscoreale, on the outskirts of Naples, Flavia returns to her grandmother’s house after having received chemotherapy.

Boys playing in a Roma camp next to a toxic waste site. Some toxic materials are burning behind them.

A toxic fire burning in the countryside releases smoke and ashes across nearby farms.

Easter celebrations in a village situated on the northern side of the “Triangle of Death”.

Two girls pray during the funeral of the magistrate Federico Bisceglia, who died in an apparent car accident on the highway to Naples. He had been investigating local Camorra affiliates in relation to illegal dumping.

Children playing pass the time in a Roma camp next to a toxic dumping site. The boy on the left is eating an apple stolen from a field just by the site.

Roberto Mancini’s funeral in Rome. Roberto was a policeman on the frontline of the battle against the trading of toxic waste. As a result of his investigations on suspected sites, he got cancer and died after a five-year battle for his life.

Roberto Mancini’s wife and daughter hug each other in front of his coffin.

A pool of rain water on top of a dumping site. In the background is smoke coming from a toxic fire.

Ten-year-old Flavia and her family live close to a toxic waste dumping site. She was diagnosed with leukaemia last year.

Children take part in a protest against the government’s unfulfilled promises.

A toxic landfill leaks underground bio-gas into the surrounding area.

A view inside a Roma camp next to a toxic waste site.

Back home after playing with her friends in a Roma camp next to a toxic wastewe site.

An impound lot for confiscated vehicles is fully burnt.

Tyres emerge from the undergrowth, just yards away from a major dumping site which is considered dangerous and is now under police control.

A boy jumps the fence of the Roma camp where he resides. The camp is located in front of a toxic dumping site, from where bio-gasses are released everyday at the sunset.

Flavia plays behind her bedroom curtain.

Flavia’s grandmother, sister and her aunt holding Francesco. Francesco was born after multiple attempts at an assisted pregnancy, after Francesco’s mother’s ovaries were surgically removed because of a tumour.

Gypsy people look at their camp burning.

Flavia plays with some nurses’ tools at Pausilipon Hospital, where she received her chemotherapy treatments.

Easter celebrations in a village situated just on the northern side of the “Triangle of Death”.

Locals take part in the festivities during the Holy Friday night of Easter.

Flavia, with her mother Nicoletta, falls asleep after returning from chemotherapy.

Flavia’s grandmother holding her cousin Francesco.

Flavia and her sister play in their bedroom. Having had chemotherapy for about a year, Flavia is now continuing her therapy at home.

An abandoned Roma camp, months after the relocation of its inhabitants by the police.

Mourners at the funeral of the magistrate Federico Bisceglia, who had been investigating illegal waste dumping.

An illegal dumping site where garbage is mixed with the soil, located right alongside farming fields.

A boy, who lives in a camp that sits on an illegal landfill, stands by a toxic fire.

Valeria Matrona, a member of “Volcanic Mothers” activist group, recovered from throat cancer.

Mothers hold up pictures of their children who died from cancer.

A man suffering from chronic stomach cancer.

A dumping site that fuels one of the region’s incinerators. The facility has been repeatedly accused of poisoning the air with the ashes it releases.

People celebrate Easter from under their umbrellas.

A girl plays in a Roma camp next to a toxic waste site.


Massimo Berruti’s photography is primarily focused on social and geopolitical dynamics.

He is mostly known for his long term project on Pakistan, approaching the subject of social change. It is this project that, with the support of the Carmignac Foundation, became his first monographic book: Lashkars.

Berruti’s work has won some of the most prestigious photography grants and prizes in the world. His essays have been exhibited at the Nobel Peace Centre, as well as in various international festivals.

All photographs by Massimo Berruti/Maps