Thousands of tonnes of diesel have poured into the Po, Italy's longest river, after tanks at a disused refinery north of Milan were sabotaged on Tuesday. The ensuing environmental catastrophe has already begun, and in an area that was already struggling from years of pollution.

According to officials in Milan, 2.5 million litres of oil were making their way down the Po after being released into the upstream Lambro River from the Lombarda Petroli refinery near Monza, 30 km north-east of Milan. On Thursday the sludge reached Parma, leading to concerns about the contamination of earth that is used to produce of the region's world-famous products, prosciutto (ham) and Parmesan. If the authorities fail to stop the spill, it will eventually get to the Adriatic Sea.

More of the disaster

Posted by "driaccio" Feb. 24, 2010.

Posted on "" Feb. 24, 2010.

“Over the course of several years, [this] could cause dangerous genetic mutations”

Paolo Trentarossi runs an environmental organisation called Legambiente Cremona. Based near to the spill, he went to asses the situation on Thursday.

Standing on the banks of the Po river, the sight is distressing. The civil defence is trying to stop the flow of the aromatic hydrocarbons [the carbon cosmetics of the oil], but it's hard work because the riverbed is particularly wide here. The aromatic hydrocarbons are carcinogenic and we don't even know what extent of damage they could do to the fish and birds that populate the Po river and its environment. Over the course of several years, these aromatic hydrocarbons could cause dangerous genetic mutations for the flora and fauna.

The last mechanical barrier is located at the Isola Serafini dam. All the heaviest hydrocarbons in the oil are blocked there; you can't avoid the oily stench. Now if the Po River currents push the oil over the dam, then the next stop is the Adriatic Sea... I think this is one of the biggest environmental disasters in Italy."

Photo sent to us by Paulo Trentarossi.

“There’s a possibility that the incident is linked with a house price boom in the area”

Andrea Agapito is head of WWF in Italy.

We absolutely have to stop the spill before it reaches the Po delta. We're working with the civil defence and the fire authorities in trying to save as many animals as possible on the banks of the river. But I'm not happy with the authorities - they didn't act quickly enough.

I don't who's behind this sabotage, but it must be someone who knows the factory well. There's a possibility that the incident is linked with a house price boom in the area in the run-up to Expo 2015 in Milan. Criminal organisations; particularly the Calabrese mafia, are interested in making money out of the boom.

Everybody knew that this factory, now used as an oil depot but what used to be a refinery [until 1984] was dangerous; it sits right on the edge of the river. The WWF made a list of factories considered risk zones. This was on it."


Trying to soak up the oil. Photos sent to us by Andrea.

“The Lambro was already very polluted”

Giorgio Chiesa is a student from Melegnano, a town situated on the Lambro River, where the spill began.

I saw the oil going by on Wednesday. It absolutely stunk. On Thursday it had largely passed, but there's definitely some petrol left. It is awful, but you also need to know that the Lambro was already very polluted. There were barely any fish left. Now there won't be any at all.

We launched a Facebook group around ten months ago about this problem. There were a lot of factories in my town until the 1980s, and they dumped all sorts of chemicals here. They might have gone now but they didn't take their pollution with them. The abandoned factories are still polluting the river.

We're asking the authorities to force local factories to respect nature and respect our river."

Photos posted on the Facebook group "Vogliamo il Lambro PULITO!".