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Caffaro industry contamination in Brescia, Italy


In the city of Brescia, a few hundred meters from the historic centre, the chemical industry Caffaro (since 1985 owned by Snia-BPD, then Snia S.p.A.) has been operating since 1906. The industry produced caustic soda (NaOH), from the 30s the activities were dedicated mainly to the fabrication of chlorine organ compounds, specialized from 1938 to 1984 in PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). The latter was the exclusive production in Italy thanks to the patent granted by Monsanto.

In 2001, after the publication of a research about the Caffaro history [1], there emerged the serious pollution produced by the industry in the nearest areas of the city, which directly affected around 25,000 inhabitants. Analysis carried out by the regional agency for the protection of the environment (ARPA), Local and National health authorities (ASL and ISS) proved the high PCB contamination of the area (up to 100 times above the limits of the law). The pollution included mercury, carbon tetrachloride and DDT and affected land, surface water and groundwater. Consequently, the area was included within the contaminated sites of national interest [2]. Moreover, an illegal special waste landfill site was found near the industry and subsequently included in the sites to be reclaimed with urgency. In 2001, directly affected citizens started a mobilization to obtain the reclamation of the area. A Popular Committee against pollution in the Caffaro area was created and supported by an Independent Scientific Committee constituted by doctors, scientists and researchers [3].

In 2001, after the publication in the newspaper “La Repubblica” of research results denouncing the contamination provoked by the Caffaro, the case come to the attention of the citizens of Brescia. Actually, the industry at that time was in downsizing and the most significant spills of PCBs and dioxins in the surrounding area occurred in previous decades.

From that moment the institutions responsible for environmental and health inspections were forced to carry out environmental surveys and biological monitoring, until then never executed. The analysis highlighted the serious and disastrous environmental pollution of the area.

In 2002, once the extent of the contamination and danger for local population was evident, the mayor of Brescia banned farming for human alimentation and forbidden the consumption of goods produced in the area [4]. Similar municipal ordinances to limit the use of the polluted lands (public gardens, agricultural fields, pastures, etc.) have been extended for periods of six months until 2014 [5]. Over the years, increased attention on the Caffaro case through studies, conferences and events thanks also to the actions put in place by local Committees. In 2008, new studies’ data were published concerning the high presence of dioxins in blood and breast milk of the population [6]. In 2009, Snia S.p.A. decided to put into liquidation the Caffaro, the liquidation process ends in 2011. However, the definitive cessation of the activities has been announced in 2013.

The urgent remediation process progresses slowly, despite the 2009 Programme Agreement issued by the Region for the remediation of the SIN [7] and the media attention on the case.

Local committees ask for a general plan for the reclamation of the SIN area, the polluted lands outside the SIN perimeter and groundwater[8]. The mobilization included public assembly to disseminate information and raise awareness on the health risks for the population, demonstrations, participation in conferences organized by local authorities, popular petitions, appeal to the judiciary (civil and criminal justice) and appeal to the European Union for infringements of the Community law.

In the last years, citizens directly affected by pollution have initiated legal action for damages, but without success. In 2014 started a new civil lawsuit against the owners of Caffaro actioned by local citizens and the Municipality of Brescia [9].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Caffaro industry contamination in Brescia, Italy
State or province:Lombardy Region
Location of conflict:Brescia
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Land
Chemical products
Industrial waste
Polychlorinated biphenyls - PCBs

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Initially the Caffaro produced caustic soda (NaOH), used to fabric soaps, textiles, paper. From the 30s the activities were mainly dedicated to the fabrication of chlorine derivatives, all substances toxic, carcinogenic and non-degradable. Some of them are known as POPs (persistent organic pollutants) or “Dirty Dozens” [10].

Main industrial chemicals and pesticides production:

PCB (1938–1984): 1.300-2.500 t/year

Carbon tetrachloride (from 1936): 320 t/year

DDT (1950-1957): 500Kg/day

Chloroparaffin (197-1996): 11.000 t/year

Clortalonil (1984-last years): 2.330 t/year


Project area:700
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:25,000
Start of the conflict:14/08/2001
Company names or state enterprises:Caffaro S.p.A from Italy
Snia S.p.A. from Italy
Relevant government actors:Brescia Municipality, Lombardy Region, Ministry of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea, Lombardy Regional Environmental Protection Agency (ARPA Lombardia), Local Health Unit of Brescia (ASL Brescia)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Comitato popolare contro l’inquinamento zona Caffaro ( ; Rete Antinocività Brescia ( ) ; Comitato per l’ambiente Brescia sud (

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsAfter 2001, several analysis of the soil have been carried out by the regional agency for the protection of the environment (ARPA). The studies proved the high PCB contamination of the area up to a maximum of 8.330 μg/kg (law limits 1-60 μg/kg). The dioxins pollution up to 3.322 ngTEQ/kg (law limits 10 ngTEQ/kg) [11]. Other substances highly contaminating lands, groundwater and surface water: mercury, carbon tetrachloride and DDT [12].
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Deaths
Other Health impactsIncreased incidence of cancer among the population of Brescia is demonstrated by the reports of the National Health Institute, ISS (2011, 2014) [13].
In addition, scientific studies provided some evidence for associations between PCBs exposure and the higher risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) [14].
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsEconomic damages for the loss of property value (land, houses).


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:Local committees (Comitato popolare contro l’inquinamento della zona Caffaro; Comitato per l’ambiente Brescia Sud; Genitori scuola Deledda; Rete Antinocività Brescia) have been demanding for years a virtuous process for the reclamation of the Caffaro Site.
Committes demand a general reclamation plan that should include different polluted area (industrial site, groundwater, public and agricultural lands, private lands..). A plan of this magnitude requires the activation of extraordinary scientific and technical resources as well as a consistent and adequate funding. The reclamation project, including the re-use of the industrial site, should have access to European funds. It should be developed and monitored by a Technical and Scientific Committee, composed of independent experts. The institution responsible for the reclamation plan should be supported by political forces and should inform citizens and involve local committees in the reclamation process.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Over the years, local independent environmentalism has obtained significant results. Firstly, bringing out a disastrous environmental pollution remained hidden for decades. Secondly, protecting local population affected by pollution, through the dissemination of information and the pressure on institutions to stop the serious exposure to risk for human health. However, the most fundamental issue regard the reclamation process. Currently, although there were commitments for remediation circumscribed in some areas, there is not a general plan of reclamation and allocation of related resources, (needs estimated at hundreds of millions of euro). In addition, there is a lack of interest by the institutions to solve the serious problem.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[4] Ordinanza Comune di Brescia, 2002

Dlgs 152 del 3 aprile 2006, parte quarta, titolo quinto, Bonifiche dei siti inquinati, e successive modifiche ed integrazioni.

[2] L. 179 del 31 luglio 2002, Disposizioni in materia ambientale, art. 14.

[5] Ordinanza Comune di Brescia, 2014

[7] Regione Lombardia, bollettino ufficiale. Caffaro Accordo Programma

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1]Marino Ruzzenenti, Un secolo di cloro e… PCB. Storia delle industrie Caffaro di Brescia, Jaca Book, Milano 2001, pp. 595

Marino Ruzzenenti, Caffaro di Brescia: un secolo di veleni, dossier di “Medicina Democratica”, n. 139/140, novembre-dicembre 2001/gennaio-febbraio 2002, pp. 28-64

[3]Comitato Tecnico

[8] Article May 2014

[10] POPs regulation

[14] National Health Institute - ISS Report, SENTIERI, 2014

Asl Brescia, Il caso Caffaro. Un'analisi oggettiva, Asl Brescia, 3 maggio 2002, pp. 32.

[6] Article "PCDD/F and PCB in human serum of differently exposed population

groups of an Italian city", Chemosphere, 2008

Marino Ruzzenenti, Caffaro: un secolo di veleni, in “Libertaria”, anno 5, n. 1, gennaio/marzo 2003, pp. 24-34.

Marino Ruzzenenti, Brescia – “caso Caffaro”: l'inquinamento dai terreni alla falda idrica, “Medicina Democratica”, n. 173/175, maggio-ottobre 2007, pp. 31-42.

Le zone morte: 5. Il caso “Caffaro”di Brescia, 2 giugno 2013, il Blog della Società Chimica Italiana

Comitato popolare contro l'inquinamento “zona Caffaro”, Il “caso PCB”. Tutto quello che i cittadini devono sapere (e che l'Asl avrebbe dovuto spiegare), Brescia, 18 aprile 2002, pp. 16.

Celestino Panizza e Paolo Ricci, Contaminazione da PCB: Brescia è piú inquinata di Seveso, in “Epidemiologia & Prevenzione”, n. 26, maggio-giugno 2002, pp. 145-153.

[9] Article on the lawsuit 2014

Minister of Environment website, Reclamation activities

Ambiente - description of the case and documentation

Local Health Unit of Brescia (ASL Brescia)

[11] History of the Caffaro industry

[12] Lombardy Regional Environmental Protection Agency (ARPA Lombardia)

Radio onda d'urto website ;

Municipality of Brescia website

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Cittadini Reattive website

Rai tv documentary

Documentaries on the case ;

Meta information

Contributor:Marino Ruzzenenti (Fondazione Luigi Micheletti, Brescia), Marianna CDCA (
Last update18/08/2019



Contaminated area


Historical picture of the industry


Public sign : danger of contamination


Caffaro industry




Demonstration demanding reclamation