A21 Workshop Report The Impact of War on the Environment
The firing range of SALTO DI QUIRRA – Sardinia – the Quirra Syndrome
report by Ria Verjauw
Not only during war and armed conflicts the environment is polluted, but also during peace time while preparing for war.
3 years ago I went to Sardinia to see and learn more about the military use of the island, the contamination problems and how it affects the local population and the military personal working in these areas.
We met with Giancarlo Piras, the father Francesco who served in the Italian army and died of cancer. Giancarla said: “Here in Sardinia, we have our war victims during peacetime. We call this area the zone where new wars are being prepared and where our children are sacrificed for.”
People living on the island – Military and weapon manufacturers
For over 50 years Sardinia has been used by military and arms manufacturers for testing new bullets, bombs and missiles; training soldiers; practicing war scenarios and destroying old weapons.
In the rural areas, people mostly raise sheep and farm the land and they make magnificent wine, honey, and cheese.
There is no industrial activity on the island and this is important to mention because further in the presentation I will speak about the causes of the environmental contamination that affects the island.
Salto di Quirra – Quirra Syndrome
Salto di Quirra Polygon military testing area in Southeast of the island , is the largest military firing range in Europe. It is an experimental polygon of the Italian Aeronautics Armed Forces, and at disposition of NATO and NATO members.
The number of cancers and birth defects among people and animals is so huge that the situation is known as “The Quirra Syndrome”. 65% of the farmers living within a radius of 2.7 km from Capo San Lorenzo (the coastal area of the Quirra base) are suffering from serious cancers, and this on seven of twelve farms.
Since 1980 tons of munitions have been exploded and have contaminated the water reserves. There are many remnants of weapons testing laying on the ground where the sheep graze.
We were told that napalm was destroyed on the range and also unused munitions from the Balkan war. The explosions were done in open air.
It is not yet known if uranium has been used in the explosions. Depleted uranium is particularly volatile and vaporizes during the explosion, so difficult to detect in the environment.
On the other hand thorium and cadmium have been found and they contaminate the food chain. F.i. thorium has been found in Sardinian honey.
There is a high level of lead in the water and on the sand at several places on the beaches.
During the explosions, people living nearby the test site, are deportated by trucks to the boarders of the Polygon. They are allowed to return the next day. Their livestock remain at home. Researchers have reported that evacuation of the villages, prior to an explosion, is of no use at all.
State Prosecutor Fiorfalisi
The State Prosecutor of Lanusei, Fiordalisi conducted a major investigation into the “Quirra syndrome” for the numerous cases of malformations of animals in the vicinity of the firing range. Thorium was found in the bones of twelve sheperd who died from leukemia. Fiordalisi also discovered a wide military waste landfill and found out that 1200 missiles were exploded and dispersed thorium. Finally he discovered the disposal of the bombs and ammunition arsenals of obsolete Italian AOS- without safeguards for the health of civilian and military.
Radar – fragile rock – arsenic mines
There are Radar stations all over the island, on the top of the mountains surrounding the bases. Some say that they are needed to calculate mathematic points for firing the missiles. Others say that they serve to control the Mediterranean area, all the way to Africa. Many fear that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the radar station is dangerous .
Scientists who studied the surrounding of the Quirra base say in their report: “ Sardinia has rocks that are very fragile and contain heavy metals. An explosion breaks the rocks into micro and nano-particles containing these heavy metals. These in turn are blown in the wind, contaminate the groundwater and people and animals breathe them in.
An other cause of health problems is an abandoned arsenic mine called Baccu Locci. The lead-arsenic-sulfide ore deposits are highly toxic and carcinogenic.
Other than military use of the area and the arsenic mine, there is no other industrial activity on the island that could be the cause of the cancers and birth defects.
We had the privilege of attending the monthly rally against the bases in Cagliari at Piazza del Carmine. It is organized by cancer victims and their families . Participants at the Action Day want to draw attention to the evacuation and closure of the military bases and rehabilitation of contaminated areas and the need for direct compensation to victims.
Victims – medical survey
Finding the cause of the cancers is difficult, partly because the military and companies using the bases, don’t have to report on what they are testing. There are national security secrets that protect them from revealing the truth. Some of the soldiers in Sardinia who developed cancer might have been exposed to depleted uranium in Iraq or Bosnia.
The Quirra area has been subject to four surveys by the Italian Authorities the last report speaks about: an abnormal number of cancers of the hemolymphatic system. According to the testing of the vets Melis and Lorrai, there is a link between birth defects and tumors that have affected farmers. The lamb born with the eyes behind the ears was released in December 2009. Two brothers who took care of the animals died of cancer eight months apart from each other between 2003 and 2004. A third brother is being treated for the same disease.
On May 12, 2011, Fiordalisi opened a court case to stop all military activities on the Quirra base.
Following the discovery of a missile in nets of fishermen and many other devices a few meters deeper in the sea in front of the polygon, the prosecutor opened the first criminal investigation into the so-called “Quirra syndrome”.
On March 24, 2012 Fiordalisi suggested 24 people to be sued (military/experts/policitians …).
The judge accepted 20. They were accused of ‘”serious failure to takeprecautions againstinjuries’ amongst them were generals, former military commandersand the Preventionmanager of the Quirra-base . Researchers, technicians and professorswere alsosuedbecause theyfalselycertified the absence ofcontaminationwith the aim”to hide the ecologicaldisaster.”
On the 17th of July 2013 the Court Case on Quirra took place in Lanusei .
A new expert was appointed by the court : Prof. Mariani
The conclusions of his report neither confirm nor deny the environmental contamination. The experimental protocol that Prof. Mariani used was the same as the one used by UNEP in 2001 in Kosovo. Later on UNEP had concluded the inability of this method . A new date for the hearing was set on the end of last month. The judge decided to delay the Hearing once again to give more time to prof. Mariani to finish his report.