Task Force Pandora: what and why?
A case of study
Task Force PANDORA is a group of high profile experts with specific scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge came from different parts of Italy and abroad. PANDORA aim the collection of scientific and technical information on the issue of environmental contamination and their possible social and health impact caused by the illegal disposal of waste in the Campania (south part of Italy).
Under my own steam, PANDORA has been established in December 2013.
At that time, I was a post-doc researcher in cancer genetics at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, USA. The call was addressed to scientific community in possession of data and information about the environmental consequences due to the illegal dump of toxic waste, particularly about the health hazards and the possible contamination of the territory of Campania.
Many experts voluntarily participated to the first kick off meeting, as the director of Cancer Registry, for instance.
Over the last few years, Campania has been subject to enormous media attention and the resulting misinformation has added further problems to those already present. In 2013, it was advertised that the land of this wonderful part of Italy were poisoned fields due to potentially lethal toxic waste, illegally and secretly dumped there by the mafia and that was responsible of the higher rates of some cancers and lifespans shorter than elsewhere in Italy. Local people believed the tabloid press and were convinced that noxious run-off from the dumps was gradually killing them and their families, loading their bodies with toxic chemicals and twisting their cells into tumors.
As scientist, we know that the phenomena are complex and it is not easy describe their effect without taking in account all the multidisciplinary information integrated. So, the primary reasons that led to the establishment of the Task Force were dictated by the lack of a debate between members of the scientific community, to bring clarity in the information and to overcome the contradictions. Before claiming this, since 2009, I’ve been report the burning of toxic waste as illegal activities. ()
But it wasn’t so simple and it wasn’t over.
I've been struggling for good scientific information especially on social networks for a long time.The media has the bad habit to divulge part of the information, using captivating titles that spread the scoop mostly and unfortunately superficiality generally makes real communication difficult. Transcribing peer-reviewed evidence and scientific consensus using this bad approach ends up to creating social, cultural and economic risky consequences. This arise in some popular beliefs and the effects are devastating.
Among the goals of the Pandora Task Force, it was the one that proposed Pandora as a direct interlocutor between citizenship, policy and science, without mediations and interpretations. It needed urgently that the scientific community interacted with the citizen and supported politicians in the right decisions. Citizens were frightened of this issue, which was not correctly described by media. Indeed, a role of great social responsibility falls on the press and media, and we scientists must become the guarantors of correct information that is sadly lacking in Italy. Political decision-making that impacts the lives and to avoid the manipulation of those who have just their own interests, it was extremely necessary to bridge the gap between scientists and ordinary people. The figure of the scientist must assume the role of reference and social responsibility towards the community. The structure of modern society resides on progress provided by technical and scientific details that need to be properly disseminated, to the institutions responsible and for citizens as well.
The work of data collection and the largest sharing of expertise has enabled us to describe the issue in detail and then to indicate the proposals technically feasible and economically viable. The problem, however was to reach all people: we tried hard to make our voices loud , aware that many obstacles were represented by the harsh economic reality, in all its meanings.
Unfortunately, the situation was worse than we expected, because part of that “scientific community” was part of the business involved in this issue. Infact, most of the assumptions of medical doctor were not supported by scientific evidence. They turned science in opinion. And this was a terrible shame! Other than the fact that the main speaker for the media was not supported by official science, but common people.
To better understanding the list below is all the examples of “fake news” supported, this time, from scientists and doctors disclosed in the press:
Deny the existence of Cancer Registry and the epidemiologic data
Assert that all the fruits and vegetables coming from Campania are poisoned
Assert that all the fields are poisoned
Point to other problem rather than the real critical issue as for example burning of toxic waste as main source of environmental risk factor for the population
Assert that high mortality in cancer is due to the environmental pollution, without considering the health care and the other risk factor as smoking and obesity
Using mortality data instead of incidence as epidemiologic risk parameter
Assert that the DNA of the citizen is previously weak and mutated and the expectation of life in reduced
Assert 40,000 cases of breast cancer in Campania every year on the press, and hide that this data was referred to national cases.
Propose blood test supported from unpublished data that would demonstrate that cancer developing is mainly due to heavy metal accumulation and there will be a therapy to save lives. (They are asking million of euro to the citizen and Government)
Using mother that have lost their child to manipulate the information and ask for money
For each of the above “fake news” I collected peer-reviewed evidence and scientific consensus published in Italian on www.taskforcepandora.com and in my book “Falsa Equivalenza”.
To better understand, in April 2014 Nature published an Editorial named “A toxic legacy” based on what I’ve just described in details. I’ll try to review some part of it. (in red)
“It is tempting to see health hazards everywhere, especially if one believes the tabloid press. From the air we breathe to the food we eat and the fun we have, the risks of normal, everyday life have never received more attention. But the people who live in the fertile agricultural landscape of Italy’s Campania region, around the historic city of Naples, have genuine reason to be anxious about their health. For decades they have lived on top of potentially lethal toxic waste, illegally and secretly dumped there by the mafia. Rates of some cancers are higher, and lifespans shorter, than elsewhere in Italy. Complaints, though, have been continually silenced.
The data published from the Cancer Registry demonstrate that there is no significantly difference between population that lives in area named “Terra dei Fuochi” and that lives in area no at risk.
Within the World Health Organization (WHO) European region, one of the highest HCC incidence rates is registered in southern Italy, mostly because of an epidemic in the Campania region, with yearly rates as high as 48.3 HCC cases/100,000 in men and 18.4/100,000 in women. In Italy, population-based sero surveys showed a strong North–south geographic gradient, with high prevalence of HCV in the southern part of the country. In this area, particularly elevated HCV prevalence rates were recorded among the older segment of the population (23 % of people aged 65 or more was HCV-positive in a population-based investigation conducted by our study group between 2003 and 2006). Chronic HCV infection (i.e., HCV RNA–positivity) is more common than chronic HBV infection, and high HCV prevalence is mainly due to iatrogenic transmission in the past decades. Infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) and/or hepatitis B virus (HBV) are major risk factors for HCC.
But Italian environmental police, working closely with anti-mafia forces, have used smart technologies to discover the subterranean dumps and are now systematically excavating them. Environmental officials are analysing soil and water. The crater walls look like geological strata, each layer formed by different types of waste: asbestos from demolished buildings, dioxin-rich chemical sludge, drums of solvent, the odd motor vehicle. Black water forms pools at the bottom. No one is allowed to even look into the stinking, steaming pits without a respirator mask.
This is referred to a particular fake news that I well described in my book and on the website. Also in this link, there is an important project that explains in detail the environmental problem targeted. All the soil is already investigated from governmental interdisciplinary group of studies and less than 1% of them is classified as risky. Campania is probably the best-known area in all over the world for the huge amount of data collected.
Furthermore, it was necessary to say that the land for agricultural practices, Legislative Decree no. 152/06 currently in force in art. 241 does not mention the limits and procedures to be established for such land, but a special regulation to be adopted by MATTM in agreement with the Ministry of Productive Activities, Health and Agricultural and Forestry Policies.
Due to the lack of specific references to agricultural soils, the practice of applying sites for agricultural land is to apply the screening values defined in D.lgs. 152/06 for public, private and residential green land, unless there are regional laws defining specific values. At present, in Campania the regulation has not yet been issued on reclamation, environmental restoration and safe, emergency, operational and permanent reclamation of areas for agricultural production and livestock farming, including for the purpose of appropriate land reclamation works.
The absence of national rules for irrigation land and water and the failure to publish the natural background values of the same environmental matrixes by the Campania Region (considering that Campania is a vulcanic soil with parameters naturally higher) resulted in the seizure by the Public Prosecutor's Office of perfectly salty soils and wells (21 wells Sequestered at Caivano) , with bad media advertising terribly penalizing for the primary sector.
For this reason, I proposed and collaborated on the legislative proposal filed on May 27, 2016 to face this important issue.” This proposal is blocked in Environmental Committee since ever.
It is clear that all the information is confused and not clear even to the international scientific community, this is the reason why I'm trying, in these all years, to get informed people correctly even if it's impossible if the scientists are disagreed as appear in disclosure media. The truth is that part of them defend the scientific evidence and part do just propaganda for their own interest.
So far, the government of Campania has received millions of euros to face this issue, money spent more for speculation, for associations, research and political consensus rather than face the real problem in Campania. It seems like that national government has invested unjustified money. We already have collected a lot of information, so now we have to solve a problem not study the problems for ever. The summary report of the main problems in details is available on the website.
To fight this huge case of manipulation by politicians, scientists and media, I have established a volunteer group of scientists who spontaneously decided to join, beside providing an abstract and a CV, signed the guidelines and the regulation and met the following task:
• Sharing data and research has already been published exclusively
• Best Practice for Citizenship
• Open Data
• Feasible and economically sustainable proposals in the statement of operations
Each member of the study group has signed guidelines on the obligation to avoid conflicts of interest and to be independent of political parties. It is composed of a multidisciplinary team. Each member of the group responds according to their own expertise, in this way we have created a critical mass that is studying the phenomenon of environmental pollution due to toxic roaches and illegal spills as described in Campania. Each review published on the website is the result of the initial consultations, but the situation will be constantly monitored. Science is not absolute truth, but is based on current knowledge that can always be denied based on the scientific method.
In all these years I’ve been trying to protect people and the noble and ethical concept of science. I love my work for the great things to give to the humanity and the world.
Indeed, it’s clear now why most of the major media keep me silenced if business is the first choice.
For further details, please contact me. It’s not easy summarize all.
Chicago, April 29th 2017
Some news in English about Task Force Pandora and me.