Residents in Naples left worrying about water
January 19, 2009
While the Navy has tested water in many houses in the Naples area, hundreds of residents remain uncertain of risks posed by their current homes and the homes they’ve recently moved out of after the Navy considered them off-limits for leasing due to possible water contamination.
The Navy began assessing health risks in the city and surrounding areas last February, following decades of illegal trash burning, dumping of toxic waste, garbage collection strikes and numerous reports on rising cancer rates and respiratory problems.
A report on the first phase of a health assessment that includes the water testing is due out at the end of the month. The Navy’s findings have so far resulted in a handful of housing relocations and the designation in November of three "New Lease Suspension Zones" to include the towns of Villa Literno, Casal di Principe, Marcianise and Arzano.
The zones were "identified as a precautionary measure," Navy officials said, after testing identified a variety of contaminants including volatile organic compounds and bacteria — including total and fecal coliform — in tap water from homes sampled during the first phase of the study.
"Although NLSZs may change in size and shape, they are likely to remain in place until completion of the Public Health Evaluation set to conclude in the fall of 2009," according to Cmdr. Jeff McAtte, spokesman for the Naples Public Health Evaluation.
More than 370 servicemembers, civilians and family members still live in these areas. Following the establishment of these zones, some residents asked to have their water tested, but were told that wouldn’t happen. Officials say the health study was not designed to test every home in the Naples area.
"The PHE will identify risk associated with living in NLSZs, and in the process identify those families requiring relocation," said McAtte. "Data gathered throughout the PHE will enable us to identify ‘at risk’ residences without sampling every leased home."
That’s little comfort to Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Suarez, who along with his wife, Maria, still lives in Casapesenna, near Casal di Principe.
His home was tested as part of the initial sample group of 166 houses selected by the Navy for Phase 1 testing in June. Results in Suarez’s home indicated bacterial contaminants. A follow-up test in late summer confirmed the results. Suarez said the base housing office notified his landlord, who then switched from well water to city water.
Suarez said he asked the Navy to test the water following the installation of new pipes and a pump. He was told there would be no testing until after he moved out.
"Ultimately, Italian public health officials are responsible for the water systems on the economy," reads a September posting on the Navy’s health assessment Web site. "At this point in the study there are no plans to resample a third time."
That decision doesn’t sit well with Suarez.
"Just because I’ve already moved in, I feel like an outcast. It’s like, ‘You’re already in, you got a couple of years left, let’s not worry about you, let’s worry about the people who are coming in and get them settled in.’ I was upset. It was like talking to a wall."
Moving on base wasn’t an option for the Suarezes, because they have a dog. Pets are not allowed in base housing.
But it was an option for the Sands family.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Rasheedah Sands, her husband, Rodney, and their 1-year-old son Jaden lived in Casal di Principe. They asked to have their water tested shortly after they moved in last summer.
"The water smelled like sewage. I was pouring Clorox down every drain every day — you know how expensive that is?" said Sands. "The housing office said our home was on well water, but we couldn’t get it tested unless we were part of the survey group."
Sands said she wanted to move on base initially, but was only offered a two-bedroom apartment, too small for her family and their belongings. Her living situation off base had her rethinking that decision.
"The trash started to pile up, the water smelled bad. When we read about the fecal coliform contamination — from human and animal waste — no wonder it stunk. I would take our baby to a friend’s house to bathe him," Sands recalled.
When the housing department offered Sands a three-bedroom apartment last fall, she couldn’t pack fast enough.
"The move to the support site was very hectic. We moved in on the 24th of November and slept on air mattresses. Our household goods arrived the next day," Sands recalled.
Although the family feels the base is a healthier environment, Sands said she has lingering concerns, particularly for Jaden.
"I wonder about any long-term effects of being exposed to this, especially for my son, since he was so young. What happens years after you’re gone from Naples?"
Her concerns, along with a sense of frustration, are shared by Suarez.
"What can I do?" he said as he flicked the E-5 rank insignia patch on his uniform sleeve.
"I don’t have any pull. But it worries me because I don’t know if my water is still contaminated."