Trash crisis in Naples draws mixed opinions
July 26, 2008
NAPLES, Italy — Faith and Brian Hutzler want another child, but won’t risk it while living in Naples.
"Eventually we want another, but not here," says Faith Hutzler, a Petty Officer 3rd Class stationed in Naples. "Not with these health concerns. We don’t want to take that chance."
Since arriving in Naples a year ago, Faith Hutzler said she has battled bouts of kidney stones, a problem she didn’t have before arriving here. The couple also keenly monitors their 2-year-old daughter’s health, watching especially for signs of asthma.
"With all the burning they do here, we’re concerned about the smoke and the air quality. We have three air cleaners … running constantly in the house," Brian Hutzler said.
But many in Naples don’t share their concerns.
In December, thousands of tons of rubbish collected on the streets after Italian trash haulers stopped collecting garbage, saying local dump sites had no more room. In an attempt to tackle the problem themselves, frustrated Italian residents often set the reeking refuse on fire. Since that time, Italian government officials have worked to fix the problem, and while some garbage still litters the streets, especially in the suburbs, the mounds are slowly disappearing.
In response to the crisis, the U.S. Navy launched a multi-million dollar, broad health assessment to determine if living in Naples puts U.S. personnel at risk. In January, health and environmental experts — led by personnel from the Virginia-based Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center — began testing and analyzing the air, water and soil in areas where Americans live. Some preliminary testing has found contaminants in residents’ air and water.
The Navy also set up a Web site — www.nsa.naples.navy.mil/risk — to let Naples residents know what it’s doing about the problem. Yet, aside from the Hutzlers, many people interviewed by Stars and Stripes in the past week say they aren’t paying much attention to the Navy’s information; either because they aren’t concerned, or don’t understand the message.
"I got here at the end of April, and yeah, while you heard about the problems in Naples, I’m not really all that concerned," said Seaman Chelsey Schumaker, a 25-year-old sailor who lives in barracks at the U.S. Navy Capodichino base.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Bernadette De La Garza, who has been stationed in Naples for eight years, isn’t worried either.
"I’m not concerned," said the 38-year-old single mother. "There are some things we could do without, like the burning of trash, but I’m not concerned for me or my daughter. We’ve had no health problems."
De La Garza said she periodically views the Navy’s health assessment Web site and reads write ups printed in the base newspaper. She probably should do so more often, she said.
But, "I find some of the information difficult to understand," De La Garza said. "A lot of it is in their own lingo, and we’re a different dialect. Speaking English doesn’t make them dumb."
Between April and July, Navy officials in Naples recorded 2,141 "visitors" to its Web site, defined as viewers who clicked on information contained on the site, and not just accessing the homepage, Snyder said. But they have no way now of gauging how effective visitors might find the information, she said.
Technicians are working to add a "how are we doing" option to the site. "We want [viewer] feedback on the Web site because now we have no way of evaluating how effective it is."
Focus groups have given mixed reviews regarding both the level of concern for their health, and the effectiveness of the Navy-circulated information, Snyder said.
While preliminary results show some contamination, Mike Chopard isn’t the "least bit concerned" about his health as a result of living in Naples for the last 12 years.
He’s leaving Naples in a week, but only because of a better job opportunity in the States.
"I love Italy. … I came over here and fell in love with Italy," said Chopard, who has served here both in an active-duty and civilian status.
The trash problems in Naples are no worse than what you’d find in some places in the States, he said, citing Bronx, N.Y., as an example. And it’s better than in a few countries in Africa he’s visited.
Navy offers tips on how to avoid getting ill from bacteria in water
NAPLES, Italy – Young children and people with health problems must take the most precaution to avoid becoming ill from traces of bacteria found in some Naples residents’ drinking water, Navy officials cautioned.
Samples taken from some off-base houses rented to Americans turned up the presence of coliform bacteria, and those residents — as well as anyone who lives off base — should use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth, officials said.
A fact sheet posted by Navy officials on their health assessment Web site at www.nsa.naples.navy.mil/risk lists dos and don’ts that residents should follow in order to avoid getting ill.
For example, adults and teens may shower, as long as they do not swallow water, and keep eyes and mouth closed and have limited exposure, according to the fact sheet. However, younger children and those with immune-compromised systems or open sores or wounds ought to sponge bathe.
Washing hands with warm tap water and soap should be sufficient.
Boiling water at this time is not recommended, officials said. Instead, residents should use bottled water for drinking, to include when making coffee or diluting concentrated drinks such as juices and infant formula. Bottled water should be used for making ice and giving water to pets.
Bottled or sanitized water should be used for washing fruits and vegetables and washing dishes. To sanitize water using bleach, experts recommend 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. Dishes, if washed by hand, should be sanitized for two minutes in the sink using the bleach solution after they’ve been washed and rinsed under running tap water; then air dried.
— Sandra Jontz