HA 006: Metastasis
Pollution in the Sarno River
The Sarno River begins in the Picentini Mountains, flows through Scafati and Pompeii and then out into the Gulf of Naples. While the river itself is only 25km long, its basin is around 500 square kilometres and it’s in that area that almost one million people live.
In the past, the river was fundamental for the growth of cities like Pompeii, giving them a waterway to aid irrigation, support trade and provide sustenance. This prominence in daily life led to the river being personified and at times even being considered a deity. Today, however, deities are less popular and reverence for the river has been replaced by new terms of reference for it; one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
Industrial wastewater has been one of the key drivers of this situation, coming from the hundreds of tanneries operating in the Sarno basin. Along the Solofrana river, one of the main tributaries of the Sarno, wastewater from the process of chrome tanning, which uses chromium salts to stabilise raw animal hides forming leather, has been allowed to run off into the Sarno rather than being treated. Beyond just the raw chemicals in the wastewater, derivatives of chromium salts such as the highly toxic hexavalent chromium, noticeable for the red tint it gives to water, have become prevalent in the Sarno basin with the Solofrana river having been found to contain up to 900 times the normal levels of hexavalent chromium in some places.
Solid waste from agriculture and industry has also found its way into the Sarno and its tributaries, blocking the natural flow of the river and contributing to increased flooding in the area. When the waterways flood, they not only share their contaminated waters with other environments but they harm the surrounding cities and fields, further polluting themselves and picking up other pieces of solid waste on their retreat.
Much of the pollution in the Sarno runs into the Gulf of Naples, the currents of which often then repel the waste back to the coastline between the Gulf of Naples and the famous Amalfi coast.
While attempts have been made to clean up the Sarno and the rivers that flow into it, they’re yet to be successful. People continue to live with this polluted waterway impacting their health and the environment around them. However, some of those in the area have decided to fight this seemingly insurmountable and irreversible problem by raising awareness through environmental activism and taking small steps to clean the area up.