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Trash crisis lands Italy in legal strife

  • Story Highlights
  • European Commission taking Italy to court over continuing Naples trash crisis
  • Commission bringing case before European Court of Justice in Luxembourg
  • It says the trash poses a threat to the environment and human health
  • Most of the uncollected rubbish lies in the streets of the city's outskirts
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(CNN) -- Italy faces legal action over the waste crisis that has left piles of garbage rotting on the streets around the southern city of Naples.

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A woman in the village of Somma Vesuviana, near Naples, helps burn rubbish on May 3.

The European Commission said Tuesday that the uncollected trash -- which started piling up shortly after Christmas -- posed a threat to the environment and human health and left Italy in breach of European Union rules on waste disposal.

The commission is bringing the case before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which could compel Italy to take steps to conform to the rules.

Though Naples and the surrounding region of Campania have had waste problems for nearly 15 years, the latest problems flared December 31, when the Italian government closed one of the area's two working dumps at the request of nearby residents.

That led to trash piling up on city streets and in alleys below residential apartment blocks. Some schools were closed to protect children from noxious fumes permeating the air.

In January, the Italian government sent the army to remove the garbage and then-Prime Minister Romano Prodi appointed a "garbage czar" to deal with the emergency. Italian media say some 745,000 tons of trash have been collected since then.

Roughly a third of the collected waste is being stored in temporary landfills around Naples and the rest has been shipped to other parts of Italy and even Germany.

But while central Naples and tourist areas are now largely free of rotting trash, media reports say some 1,300 tons of it remain on the streets, much of it in the city's outskirts.

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"The measures being taken are inadequate to address Campania's waste problems in the long term and prevent a repeat of the unacceptable events seen over the past year," the commission said in a statement.

The commission said Campania needed an effective management system that addressed the collection, treatment, and disposal of waste.

The government has also failed to give a clear timetable for putting new sorting plants, landfills, and incinerators into operation, the commission said.

Campania's garbage problems were a big part of the recent campaign for prime minister.

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Silvio Berlusconi, who won the election and will take office this week, plans to hold his first council of ministers in Naples to show that the government is serious about solving the issue.

The involvement of local organized crime, which has long controlled the region's lucrative waste-disposal business, has complicated government efforts to find a solution. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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