Puglia – a large, fast-growing region of four million residents in the southeast of Italy – joins the BreatheLife campaign well aware of the health impacts of air pollution, but also of the complexities involved in fighting them.
Particulate pollution is a persistent problem in Puglia, which is also the largest producer of Aromatic Polycyclic Hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide among the 20 Italian regions, with two cities (Taranto and Brindisi) producing the majority of those emissions because of the presence of a steel plant and a coal-fired power plant.
One of these cities is Taranto, whose steel production plant is larger than the city itself. The plant is so close to inhabited areas that on so-called “wind days”, schoolchildren are legally obligated to remain shut up in their homes in order to avoid potentially dangerous exposure to fine particulate matter carried by the wind from the plant.
In 2012, efforts to introduce an effective environmental plan met resistance in a complex battle of costs, benefits, power and priorities that spilled into the city’s streets.
But when the evidence was in, the findings tipped the scales and Taranto documented a rise in cancer mortality and paediatric hospitalization due to respiratory diseases, which were higher than those recorded in the rest of the Region.
This evidence has given Puglia extra impetus for urgent action.
“The Apulia Region has started a serious technical debate with national and international experts, adopting a Knowledge Transfer Exchange (KTE) approach in which the decision making process is based on scientific evidence and on the adoption of the well-established best practices in the production of energy and steel, being aimed at ensuring environmental protection and benefits for human health, but also at restoring all human rights granted by the International Convention on Children and Adolescent Rights, which have been violated, especially during the so called ‘wind days’,” declared the President of Region Apulia Michele Emiliano in a recent comment.
The region prioritizes coal-free energy production and industry, improved wastewater treatment, building energy efficiencies, passive solar design, fugitive emission control from other industries, reducing open burning of agricultural waste— all guided by several plans, including a Road Map for Decarbonization, a regional waste management plan and a regional energetic and environmental plan.
Puglia region is committed to try to assess the gap between the current achievements based on EU laws and directives and WHO air quality guidelines.
“The Puglia Region, under the guidance of WHO, has decided to follow the 2015 Lancet Commission recommendations, applying them not only to power plants but also to steel production,” said Director of the Regional Environmental Department, Barbara Valenzano.
“These require actions that include a rapid phase-out of coal, cautious transitional use of natural gas and the need for a decisive policy package in transport, agriculture and energy sectors in particular,” she said.
Puglia’s roadmap includes a rapid transitory conversion to natural gas of the Taranto steel plant by switching the production with the use of Direct Reduced Iron (DRI), a process that replaces carbon use with gas-powered furnaces.
Puglia joins the BreatheLife campaign with a wealth of experience in tackling industry-related air pollution and its complexities, now armed with an evidence-based approach to policymaking.
Follow Puglia’s clean air journey here.
Banner photo by Alessandro Spadavecchia, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.