Unfortunately for the grandiose basilicas and romantic canals amid the 118 islands of Venice, Italy – described by UNESCO as ‘an extraordinary architectural masterpiece... one of the greatest capitals in the medieval world’ – they share their lagoon with Porto Marghera, roughly four miles away on the mainland.
This roughly 19 km2 industrial park, which includes various oil refineries and chemical plants, spent much of the last century using the lagoon as a way of disposing of waste products. In 1998, it was consequently added to a high priority list of siti d’interesse nazionale (sites of national interest) recognising the need to pay special attention to the environmental state of the park.
‘The list includes those sites in Italy where contamination levels or chemical, physical, or biological alterations of soil, subsoil, surface water or groundwater pose a risk for public health or for the natural or built environment,’ explains Ilda Mannino, scientific coordinator at Venice International University. As a result, traditional long-term Venetian concerns over a city that has been slowly sinking have been combined with fears of severe chemical water contamination in the iconic canals, as well as the negative effects on the ecological state of the lagoon.
After years of heel-dragging, an attempted clean-up is finally beginning, albeit slowly. €72million was recently allocated by environment minister Gian Luca Galletti to construct more than three kilometres of embankments to contain the polluted waters. However, it is widely acknowledged that this funding is insufficient. ‘The €72million is not for cleaning up Porto Marghera; that amount would not be enough,’ says Mannino.
“Estimates say that a total of €250million would be necessary for finishing the containment works”
Following the theoretical containing of the Porto Marghera site, attention could then potentially turn to cleaning up the 500 km2 Venice lagoon itself, a process which existing efforts have barely touched upon. ‘After the containment, the real remediation of the sites should start, for which a much higher amount of money will be needed,’ adds Mannino.
This was published in the April 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.