Burning rubbish piles in the streets of Naples are threatening an environmental disaster, experts warn.

Desperate locals in the Italy city and the surrounding Campania region are building bonfires to clear the refuse - and releasing large amounts of feared cancer-causing chemicals, called dioxins, into the atmosphere .

Five thousands tonnes of stinking rubbish have piled up as a result of closed incineration plants and misused public funds. Incompetent management, crooked politicians and above all, the Neapolitan mafia, have been blamed for the crisis. But the result is not in doubt.

The southern region's 6m people are now threatened by rising levels of the poisons, which experts warn could remain in the food chain for decades. Fire-fighters in the region are currently being called out hundreds of times a day as attempts to burn rubbish blaze out of control. Burning one tonne of refuse can release up to a gram of the deadly dioxins, which are among the most dangerous chemicals known to man.

Once released they can persist in the environment, particularly the fatty tissue of animals - and people. Leading British dioxin expert Professor Alistair Hay of Leeds University said: "This is not good news at all. Burning plastic containers, many of which are found in household rubbish is a particularly rich source of dioxins."


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