A blanket of smog enveloped Naples, Italy, on Friday, indicative of a high level of air pollution. The tip of Mount Vesuvius peaks out of the smog to the left, and the bay of Naples, usually seen on the right, had vanished from sight.

A blanket of smog enveloped Naples, Italy, on Friday, indicative of a high level of air pollution. The tip of Mount Vesuvius peaks out of the smog to the left, and the bay of Naples, usually seen on the right, had vanished from sight. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — Summer and smog are synonymous in this seaside southern Italian city — a problem exacerbated of late as Neapolitans struggle to dig themselves out of a trash crisis by burning garbage.

Yet, for its bad-air reputation, Naples’ air quality isn’t as bad as some U.S. cities experience, one U.S. Navy doctor says.

Seems “the solution to pollution is dilution,” Dr. (Cmdr.) Walter Dalitsch III, with Occupational Medicine at the U.S. Naval Hospital Naples, wrote in a column published Friday in the base newspaper.

“Fortunately, nearly all of our exposure to [pollutants from burning trash] is negligible by the time it reaches the residents,” Dalitsch wrote. “The human nose is a highly sensitive organ, and just because the odor is foul does not mean it necessarily represents a health hazard.”

That said, on the day his column ran, Mount Vesuvius barely was visible through the heavy smog that blanketed Naples, a reminder of poor air quality that causes some to suffer from runny noses, burning eyes and coughing.

Naples gets a bad rap, said Army Sgt. Maj. Luis Martinez, who has been here three years.

“It doesn’t smell good at times, but as far as bothering me, it doesn’t bother me,” said Martinez, with NATO’s Communication Information System Services Agency. “I’ve been in worse cities in the United States, like San Diego.”

Comparing Naples’ air quality to that of some U.S. cities hosting Navy bases, Naples “is no worse — and in many cases better — than some stateside cities,” wrote Dalitsch, who recently discussed the city’s air quality with local atmospheric experts who study and monitor the area’s air via air quality sensors, both government- and independently-owned.

“In well-known Navy locations, such as San Diego, Chicago and Norfolk, data shows that on some days, various air pollutants exceed those in Naples,” wrote Dalitsch, basing the finding on the universally accepted Air Quality Index. Naples fares better at times because of its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea.

But in 2004, the Sesto San Giovanni Hospital’s occupational health department in Milan released results of a pollution study that found Naples residents breathe the equivalent of nine to 11 cigarettes’ worth of pollution per day.

And a second study published in July last year by Italy’s Environmental Research Institute, in collaboration with the environmental lobby firm Legambiente, classified Naples as Europe’s least eco-friendly city. The institute used 20 “eco-indicators,” including number of public parks, pedestrian and cyclist zones, air pollution and the efficiency of trash collection. Naples ranked last among 26 cities, after Milan and Rome. The top-rated city was Helsinki, Finland.

Naples is home to roughly 9,000 Americans, here as military members, dependents, contractors or civilians, according to most recent Allied Joint Force Command Naples figures.

Respiratory and cardiac problems top the list of ill health effects from exposure to pollutants, especially in people who smoke or suffer from asthma, according to the Regional Agency for the Environmental Protection of Campania.

Tips for reducing smog risks

The Regional Agency for the Environmental Protection of Campania offers 10 suggestions on its Web site to reduce health risks related to exposure to smog:

1. Take public transportation.

2. Minimize time spent outdoors, especially when traffic is most intense.

3. Carpool.

4. Keep vehicle windows rolled up and outside air vents closed when traveling in tunnels or in heavy traffic.

5. Turn off vehicle engines when sitting in heavy traffic.

6. Avoid parking or walking in tunnels or in areas with heavy traffic.

7. Avoid taking children in areas with heavy traffic. If unavoidable, carry children to keep them from breathing in vehicle emissions, which are found lower to the ground.

8. Bring children to parks located farther from roadways.

9. Air out the house when traffic is least intense.

10. Avoid exercise and open-air sporting activities in areas with heavy traffic.


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