River Bruna – No to polluting the aquifers

A good friend who is always engaged in the struggle for justice and dignity told us that he had an invisible No Waiting sign stuck to his back. The sign reminded him at all times that he should not “stop” and that the fight against injustice obliged him to get involved wherever a battle for human dignity was taking place. The purpose of this section is to take the same approach. We use it to bring to your attention actions, battles, ideas and experiences that allow you, the reader, to “discover” choices you can support or, even better, “copy”.

In this newsletter we are looking at the actions taken by the Committee to defend the River Bruna (in the photo) against the deposit of so-called “gessi rossi” in the Bartolina quarry. “Gessi rossi” (“red gypsum”) is waste material from the production of titanium dioxide (a white pigment used in industry and in food production and potentially carcinogenic according to the WHO and the EU) when it combines with the marble dust in the Carrara quarries. In the presence of water, these “gessi” deposit in the aquifers abnormally high levels of chlorides, chromium, vanadium, sulphates and manganese, all of which are regarded as carcinogenic.

What are we talking about?

“The Bruna is a river in the Grosseto area, whose sizeable aquifer is used over an area of around 15,000 ha, allowing a range of specialist farming activities to take place on the plain. The Bartolina quarry lies just 70 m. from the river and quarrying, with the use of explosives, in this close proximity has been permitted since 2010, with the proviso that it would subsequently turned into the biggest artifical lake in the area, a scheme that had been planned and approved.”

So the Bartolina quarry was supposed to be used to create an artificial lake but something (or someone?) intervened with the intention of using this great “hole in the ground” to dump “red gypsum” waste. The alarm was immediately raised by farm workers in the area – who set up the Defence Committee – as well as by farming and environmental organizations, all seriously concerned about the impact of the industrial waste products listed above on the groundwater. It should be noted that just a few hundred metres from the Bartolina there are nationally important farms, many of them organic, as well as agritourism locations and restaurants. In addition, the river runs into the sea in an area of very popular tourist beaches. Finally, it should be pointed out that the aquifer of the Bruna provides the drinking water for a number of municipalities and population centres.

This was the start of the battle that led to the formation of the Committee, recourse to the Regional Administrative Court, attempts to raise awareness among local and regional politicians and in the media, information campaigns and an appeal not to leave this fight just to the farm workers and allow it to degenerate into the usual struggle between equally disadvantaged groups. In regard to the last point, those who oppose the farm workers’ campaign raise the question of job losses at the Scarlino chemical plant which is the source of the “gypsum”. Those making this case do not stop to think that without environmental protection the economic, physical and health costs grow ever higher. This is why the other potential solutions suggested by the Committee for depositing the red gypsum, for example in some abandoned quarries (still in Tuscany), but sufficiently far away from the aquifers merit consideration.

The fight with the local administrators has already started and we urge our readers not to leave the Maremma farm workers to pursue it on their own.