Doctors in Rome have warned of possible health hazards caused by overflowing rubbish bins in city streets as the Italian capital struggles with a renewed waste emergency aggravated by the summer heat.
Waste disposal is a decades-long problem for the Eternal City. Rome was left with no major site to treat the 1.7 million metric tons it produces every year when the Malagrotta landfill was closed in 2013.
Successive mayors from different parties have all proved incapable of solving the problems, which have re-emerged dramatically since Virginia Raggi of the populist 5-Star Movement took the helm three years ago.
Her administration is facing frustration and anger from tourists and Romans over the piles of rubbish that threaten health and tarnish the city’s image.
“We’ve become the third, fourth world in my opinion,” said Rome resident Rossana Franza. “Mrs Raggi should take a small stroll here once and a while. Because in her neighbourhood, which I have been to, it is all in order.”
Another resident who only gave her name as Alessia said a rat walked by her the other day and she cannot go outside in the evenings because “there’s an incredible stink”.
Dogs, cats, rats and birds pose a serious health risk as they root around in rubbish and spread bacterial infections through their waste or urine, Roberto Volpe from the National Research Council said.
“The main risk for us comes when we take out and throw the trash away,” he warned. “There’s a risk of taking the contamination back home with us. That’s why it’s important to wash our hands properly afterwards.”
Dr Volpe also discouraged angry citizens from setting rubbish piles on fire, saying that could cause greater health risks through dioxin contamination, which can lead to cancer.
Officials in Rome, who are often at odds over the constant waste emergency, do agree on one thing: the problem needs a long-term solution.
“Let’s be honest … no waste plan can solve a problem aggravated by 60 years of mismanagement in one year,” said Marco Cacciatore, president of the local commission for environmental and city politics in Rome.
“Let’s tell the truth to citizens: We are human. This difficult infrastructural situation cannot be resolved in the short term.”