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NAPLES, Italy — The U.S. Navy has begun what it is calling Phase II of an in-depth health evaluation in Naples — moving away from testing for possible water contaminants in individual houses and focusing on a broader area.

The Navy has contracted technicians to begin sampling soil gases in what experts have identified as nine study areas throughout the Campania region, according to a health awareness update on the Naples community Web site.

"This will enable the [assessment team] to more rapidly identify boundaries of both contaminated and ‘clean’ areas in and around Naples," reads the update.

During Phase I of the analysis, experts tested 166 off-base homes, and experts found the presence of the volatile organic compound PCE — a chemical used in cleaning solvents — in 14 homes in Casal di Principe. In addition to the VOCs, nearly one-third of homes tested indicated the presence of bacteria, including total and fecal coliform.

Those findings led to a policy change in September in which the Navy began testing all prospective new-lease homes for the presence of bacteria and VOCs before Americans could sign final lease contracts and move in.

Nearly 200 homes under consideration for pre-leasing were tested. Of 189 results returned to the Navy, nine homes did not meet risk screening criteria to be deemed "acceptable," Cmdr. Jeff McAtee, a spokesman for the Naples public health evaluation, wrote in an e-mail. The tap water in all nine homes had presence of total coliforms, one had presence of fecal coliform, he wrote.

Officials from the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center in Virginia started in February a broad health assessment to determine if living in Naples poses a health hazard. Health concerns have plagued this southern Italian metropolis for decades. The city has endured years of crises: uncollected trash, illegal burning of garbage, dumping of toxic waste and reports of a rise in cancer rates and respiratory problems.

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