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EU Orders Italy to Clean Up Garbage

The European Union's Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas says Italy must act immediately to resolve the garbage situation in Naples to avoid worse consequences on public health. As Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi prepares to hold his first cabinet meeting in the city this week, the EU has said it is prepared to assist Italy but there must be the will to resolve the problem. Sabina Castelfranco has this report from Rome.

Tons of garbage continue to block many sidewalks and streets in the center of Naples and its suburbs. Residents, sometimes forced to wade through knee-high trash, no longer know what to hope for. They say a miracle is needed to resolve the crisis.

Trash collection came to a near halt in December because there is no more room for the garbage at local dumps.

In their despair and anger residents have taken to burning the trash at night, overturning dumpsters and throwing their garbage in the countryside. They have been attacking firefighters attempting to put out the fires. The situation appears to be completely out of hand.

One Naples resident says he has a young daughter and he is very scared for her. He says sometimes he won't take her out of the house because he is concerned about the air that she will breathe.

The new Berlusconi government has been giving assurances that the garbage crisis in Naples and the surrounding area will be dealt with and resolved. The prime minister is planning to hold his first cabinet meeting in the city on Wednesday and the trash issue will be at the top of the agenda.

"The situation is without question dramatic," says Italo Bocchino, a member of parliament and part of the governing majority." "The first thing hat needs to be done is for the garbage to be removed from the streets and in order to do this, new dumping sites must be found. So, he added, the first measures need to include the identification of such sites.

But many residents don't want dumping sites near where they live, nor do they want incinerators close by. Even a partial solution to the problem appears far away.

Mr. Berlusconi is expected to call in the army to help clear the trash off the streets. But where this will be taken is still unclear. Meanwhile the U.S. military based in Naples has also been concerned about the potential health risks caused by the uncollected garbage. Lieutenant Commander Wendy Snyder said a decision was taken to start sampling tap water and soil and analyze these.

"Our Navy community here was concerned about their health with the excess garbage that was in the area and the burning of the garbage and that in addition to learning about some of the news reports that came out about increased cancer rates in some areas," she said.

The Naples Doctors Association has also expressed alarm over the potential for disease from mice, cockroaches and other insects thriving in the mountains of garbage. The group's president, Giuseppe Scalera said the worst health damage could come from dioxins released from burning trash.

Dr. Scalera said that for the time being the situation is still under control but this is not the type of emergency that can last forever.

As the summer draws closer and temperatures will increase, concerns mount that health risks will only increase if something is not done quickly.