Ria Verjauw and Carla Goffi Report - Sardinia: ‘the trash of the military and weapon industry’

Sardinia: ‘the trash of the military and weapon industry’

‘Salto di Quirra and the Quirra Syndrome’
Report on Visit to Sardinia – October 7 till 15, 2011


For about 50 years, several areas in Sardinia have been used for military and industrial activities linked with weapons testing and the destruction of old weapons arsenals.

Salto di Quirra is the largest European Polygon, used for military excercises. The other Polygons in Sardinia are Capo Teulada, Decimommanu and Capo Frasca.

The local population lives on income made from tourism and agriculture. There is no industrial activity on the Island. Different parties are involved in military zones: the Italian government, the military from various countries, NATO, and the weapons industry, as well as shepherds and the local population.

The climate in Sardinia is perfect for the performance of weapons testing. There is sunshine 360 days out of the year.
However there is a lot of wind, which can spread pollution through the air. There are only 1,6 million inhabitants on the island.

Since the 1980’s, there have been reports of a sharp increase in the incidence of tumors in people living in the contaminated areas as well as in military personnel. These tumors occur particularly in the haemo-lymphatic system and the thyroid.

The polygone de ‘Salto di Quirra’ is situated close to the town Perdas De Fogu in southern Sardinia which is mountainous. The PISQ (Polygon Interforce Salto di Quirra), acts under the authority of the Italian Aerospace General staff.
In 2001 a local medical doctor raised his voice about the increase in the incidence of cancers and genetic malformations in infants amongst the local population. In the village of Escalapano, with 2.600 habitants, 8 children were born with genetic malformations in 1988. In the village of Quirra with 150 habitants, 12 people died from leukemia in 2002. A report of 2010 speaks of 65% of the Quirra shepards, having tumors.

These figures are incomplete but alarming.

There are also Radar stations all over the area, on the top of the mountains surrounding the Polygons. Some say that they are needed to calculate mathematic points of the routes of missiles when fired. Others say that they serve to control the Mediterranean area, all the way to Africa.

 The Italian State gets 1 Million euro a day as compensation for the use of the testing areas in Sardinia. No money goes back to the local population that suffers the effects of the pollution and contamination of the land, water, sea and air.

The president of the Region of Sardinia, Ugo Cappellacci, obtained compensation of 50 Million euro in total from the Italian government. Up to now, only 1,5 Million euro has been transferred. The Italian State ordered that this money should go to the local communities (for the construction of new facilities/buildings) and not directly to the local population that suffers the effects of the pollution and contamination of the land, water, sea and air.

In the meantime, the Italian Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (which was to have published the results of the investigations of the veterans at the end of June 2011) blocked the dossier. Why? There is as yet no answer to this question.

On 12 May 2011, a court case was filed at the Court of Lanusei by Prosecutor Fiordalisi. The purpose of the court case was to stop all military and industrial activities on the PISQ. 400 to 500 shepherds from the area demonstrated in front of the Procuratorate, where the court case was being held. They fear that if the Polygon were to be closed, they have no more grassland for their cows and sheep and they have no other alternative of where to herd their animals.

The prosecutor Domenico FiordalisiProsecutor Fiordalisi started a lonely combat against the military occupation and the contamination of the Island. He wants to protect the local population. Together with two investigators, he has worked hard on the case but has encountered a lot of opposition, in particular from the poor local population.
Fiordalisi has described it as ‘the war of the poor’.

A lot of young people in Sardinia are unemployed and join the army in order to have a job. TV commercials show the young people a picture of exotic beaches, nice houses etc to convince them to join the army. Many do.

La Madalenda, an island in the North of Sardinia, is highly polluted and has been abandoned by the military (the Americans). No clean up has taken place up to now. The Island is still used to store weapons.

The purpose of the visit to Salto di Quirra:

®      To witness the human and environmental tragedy in the PISQ caused by weapons testing and the testing and use of high technologic materials. Testing had been done by Italian and foreign armies, private companies/industries, and NATO.

®      To collect and put together information on Syndrome de Quirra: the appearance of cases of cancer and congenital malformations in the population and animals.

®      To meet with journalists, legal authorities, independent experts, scientists, action groups, trade unions victims and victims and their families, and to get a feel for public opinion.

We met with Victims and their families

Giancarlo Piras and his wife live in Decimomannu where the largest airport of NATO is situated. It is 3 times the size of a civilian airport. It is there as a result of an agreement between Germany, Canada and Italy.

The Pirases are the parents of Francesco who died in 2007of lymphoma at the age of 27. Francesco did his 10 months military service at the base of Teulada. The base is 7.200 hectares and is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the southern peninsula of Sardinia.
The area has been used as a testing site by NATO and other countries. From there, large parts of the west coast of Sardinia (up to Capo Frasca ) are used as an air and naval testing area. Fishermen who cannot fish there, receive a small compensation for unemployment.

During his service Francesco had to clean up an area that was contaminated by picking up all unexploded munitions on the ground. Francesco had to do this as punishment for having raised concerns about the terrible hygienic conditions in the kitchen, where he worked as a cook. Americans were present while Francesco picked up the unexploded munitions.

After his military service Francesco became ill, and was diagnosed with cancer. Medical Doctors at the hospital asked him if he had been in contact with radioactive materials.
Dr. Antoinetta Gatti, (Doctor in Experimental Physics at the University of Bologna - Italy Ph.D. in Biomedical Technologies at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of BolognaItaly - Biomaterials Laboratory (BIOMAT) University of Modena e Reggio Emilia, member of the Italian commission of DU investigation ) took biopsies of Francesco’s tissues and discovered high quantities of industrial heavy metal particles. Giancarlo claims that his son had to pick up depleted uranium (DU) munitions and got infected by DU during this punishment.
The parents of Francesco met with other parents of deceased children (who had done their military service in Sardinia and in the Balkans) and founded the organisation “Comitato Genitori Vittime uranio impoverito”.

Giancarlo stated:
Here in Sardinia, we are confronted with war victims but in a peaceful area. We like to call this area the zone for preparing new wars”.
Giancarlo said that an existing law says that the government needs to know what kind of weapons/materials have been tested in the Polygons. The reality is that none of the armies give information about the tests and hide under the umbrella of ‘military secrecy’.
The US army makes its own ‘auto certificates’ with information about the weapons they are testing. No one has any control on the accuracy of these documents.
The victims committee also asks for clean up of the contaminated areas, but the military authorities deny the use of any depleted uranium weapon.

The families cry out: “OUR DEAD are not recognised”!

During a trip to the coastline we met:

Shepard Melis, who was in the fields with his herd of cows in the Quirra area.
This meeting was not planned. It just came our way, the right time at the right place, as many things happen that way.

Some of the roads in the area were blocked by the Military, this means that this is an area where testing takes place.
Melis said: “it was better before, the military changed my life”.
His youngest son died at the age of 23 from leukemia. It was his only son who was accustomed to accompany his father when herding cows in the fields.
Melis filed a lawsuit against the Italian government. The mayor of the village said it is not dangerous to go to the fields while shepherding cows in the Polygon.
Melis also spoke about the high numbers of malformations amongst the animals in the area. He hopes that justice will prevail. He is not afraid to speak out, but many other families that lost children, are afraid and keep silence.

Some other witnesses came our way and told us about the Polygon and the closest village, Perdas de Fogu. Along the coastline NATO does testing on land, sea and in the air. They witnessed the many remnants of weapons testing that were abandoned in the fields where shepherds graze their livestock. One of them also has seen long convoys of trucks, coming from abroad, entering the military base. It was said that they transported Napalm to be destroyed on the base (this was confirmed by other sources).

Experts – Scientists

We met with some experts/scientists who are familiar with the problem of the pollution and health problems caused by pollution of military activities.
We prefer not to mention the names of these scientists/experts because of the ongoing investigation and study in the Salto di Quirra area. Until the results are made public we promised not to name their names.

Gathered info:
Not only has DU been used in the Polygon but a lot of other pollutants as well.
In 1956 the Italian Ministry of Defense made an agreement with the Sardinian Region to use certain areas as testing ranges.
Now there is a problem with the quality of milk / meat / honey in these areas.
The food chain is contaminated.
Military zones belong to the Italian state. Local communities are allowed to use these zones. Shepherds go there with their cows and sheep. Thorium has been found in these zones.
There are many families whose members of the family have cancer. There were 5 different cancer cases in one family with 12 members: the cancers in this family were cancers of the testis, brain, and spine… It is thought that Radar might also cause health problems.

Finding Depleted Uranium in the Quirra area seems to be very difficult. This is because of its nature: it vaporizes and is consequently difficult to detect. A part of the DU transforms into for the eye invisible uranium oxide particles that can easily be carried with the wind

The evacuation of the villages, prior to an explosion, is of no use at all. The wind blows the particles much further than the areas that are blocked off and for a longer period of time than the people are told. The toxic clouds of dust go all the way to the highway, the villages, the sea and the villages frequented by tourists.
At the border of the Polygon de Quirra there is a small river. The spring that is the source of the river is in the middle of the area where the explosions take place. All along the river, people mostly shepherds have died or are ill, who had or have frequented the area. There are a lot of underground rivers in Salto di Quirra.
Since 1980 tons of munitions have been exploded and have contaminated the water reserves. Unutilised munitions from the Balkan war (especially American arms) arrived by truck convoy. They were all destroyed after being thrown into a pit of 8 hectares diameter at Perda Maior. The explosions were done in open air. There are no mountains that could protect the citizens from contamination.
In an area of 2000m² there is no longer any vegetation. It looks like burned soil.

Each time there is an explosion; the limits of pollution exceed the legal limits of contamination. The whole area is contaminated.
The rivers going through the PISQ end up in the sea.
It is not yet known if uranium has been used in the explosions. However Thorium 232 and Cadmium have been found.
During an explosion, roads are closed for traffic. But this is only for a limited distance, and the winds blow the dust much further. An explosion in Quirra of 30 seconds produces the same pollution/toxic emissions as a incinerator of municipal solid waste (thermal combustion) during one year.

During the explosions, people living nearby, are transported by trucks to the boarders of the Polygon. They are allowed to return the next day. Their livestock remain at home.
There is a high level of lead in the water and the sand at several places on the beaches.

In 2004, the Italian Government paid 5 Mio euro to the University of Pisa to make a study in the area. The study deals only with pollution from Arsenicum and concluded in its final report that the area is clean (abandoned arsenic mine of Baccu Locci is located in the area).


Meeting with Prosecutor Domenico Fiordalisi della republica di Lanusei.(F)
Fiordalisi was excused because of urgent family matters but Carla could talk to him on the phone. He started a fight against the ongoing pollution in the area caused by military and weapon industry.
F.’s family had to leave Sardinia because of security reasons, they received threats. But F. stayed and is under police protection now, day and night.
He works on this issue to protect the people. Newspapers and magazine report about the ongoing struggle of F.

Many parties are involved in the area: 'a wall of silence exists amongst the population'. F. said that the people must talk and that journalists need to publish articles on the issue to raise awareness and to warn people.
F. has some inspectors to help him with research and investigations. They work behind locked doors at the Court House in Lanusei.
F. only gets support from a few organisations and from members on his facebook (3600 members).
He has started a court case against unknown for serious homicide and environmental disaster and asks to close an area of 120km². Many shepherds are against F. because there is no alternative for their sheep to graze at other locations.
Some citizens tried to speak out (like they did in Villapuzu, their mayor is a medical doctor). Some shepherds of Villapuzu who talked, were beaten.
F. will continue his struggle, his goal is to protect the population.
On our way back we see several huge Radar installations on top of the hills surrounding the Quirra area.

15 October 2011 – Action day  3th Manifestation/demonstration 'War Dust'

in Cagliarri, Piazza Del Carmine, organised by parents and organisations of victims of military contamination in Sardinia

Participants at the Action Day demand: the evacuation and closure of the military bases and rehabilitation of contaminated areas - direct compensation to victims rather than the municipalities, (some of which derive personal profit from the presence of military).

For the first time the president of the region of Sardinia, Cappellacci Ugo showed up during the demonstration to talk to people and listen to them. The event was covered by newspapers and TV. In particular, RAI3 télé reported on the event. There was a lot of media attention.

We had the opportunity of talking to the president and explaining the goals of our visit. Parents of victims and the victims themselves were very angry and emotional during the meeting with the President. He himself only spoke about financial compensation for the victims. He said nothing about the decontamination of the area. President Ugo explained to the audience that Italy did not give the promised 50 Million euro for compensation of loss of income for people living around the Polygon of Quirra. This money is meant to go to the affected communities and not to individuals. This did not satisfy the audience, they asked for compensation for the loss of their family members and for their terrible health conditions rather than building new facilities for community purposes. To heighten awareness and to give the victims a louder voice, the organizers made plans to have a demonstration every 15th of the month in the capital of Sardinia.
The 15 October demonstration was a good opportunity to meet with a lot of people from different victims organizations and victims themselves, politicians, media and press.

Following was said to us during the talks with participants of the demonstration:

®      Israel/Libya / Germany/ Canada are all involved in the testing

®      Italy sells a lot of weapons/ Vatican banks are involved.

®      Italy and Israel cooperate. Israel builds Radar.

®      There was a referendum on nuclear power plants to be built in Sardinia on the 15-16 May 2011: People voted NO.

®      There was hope among the participants that Europe would finally start moving on the issue by helping the affected population.

During a Phone conversation with Dr. Antonietta Gatti  it is clear that she is very worried about the situation in the Quirra area.
She said: “Fiordalisi has tried to close the firing ranges. Both sheep and grass are polluted. I tried to give uncontaminated hay. Now the shepherds have to pay for the hay themselves“.

High tech weapons are tested in the area, Radio tracers are used and also thorium. Dr. Gatti found carcinogenic agents in the tissues of military personnel. Also iron, lead, tungsten, and copper in the tissues of citizens and in the tissues of sheep. She claims not to have found any radioactive substance.
There is military war pollution in Sardinia, due to military activities. Decontamination is impossible” she says.

Rain leads to the contamination of the soil. Through air pollution, other countries that are not involved in the testing are contaminated as well. Until now no measures of sea pollution exist; but Dr. Gatti is sure that the sea is polluted. Fish who swim longer distances are less contaminated then fish that remain in the same place, because of the higher exposure. Local governments do not warn the people when there is testing by military, even at night weapons are tested in the area.

And what about the Radar problems?
Few people are aware of the problem. If you are in front of the radar field, that is dangerous, says dr. Gatti. It also depends on the power of the radar. 2 to 3 radar readings from different points are needed to calculate the mathematical trajectories of the routes of the missiles when fired.

Dr. Gatti knows of 1200 cases of cancer. Amongst them 140 are soldiers.
Our conclusions:

1.       There is no industrial activity on the Island of Sardinia, pollution comes from weapons testing/destruction of unutilized stocks of weapons.

2.      Next to the pollution by weapons testing and destruction, there is the problem with Radar and electromagnetic fields.

3.      A Syndrome of Quirra exists. It is most probably caused by different pollutants.

4.      The Quirra Syndrome affects the entire society: the democracy, the health, the local economy, the environment, the future of the local population (as well as the next generations).

5.      The local population and military personnel, wildlife, lifestock and the environment suffer from war pathologies.

6.      There is no available information about possible effects on tourists driving through or staying in contaminated areas.

7.      The local population is split into several camps: one group is in favour of closing the Polygons, the other is against the closing, an other one has no opinion because of disinformation. People are confused.

8.      The Military are integrated into Sardinian society (several mayors had military careers, married local women…).

9.      Militarization of the Island and movements of different military troops is very visible on the Island, especially in the areas that surround the Polygons.

10.    The local population is poorly informed about the kinds of weapons tested. The Military and industry hide behind: industrial espionage/security reasons etc.

11.     Up to now only organizations of victims and a few politicians/authorities have spoken out.

12.    Concerned organizations such as environmental organizations are not yet active on the issue.

13.    People that we met asked us: “why did you come from so far away and why are you concerned about the situation in Quirra while the Italian government and some people from Sardinia do not worry about us”?

14.    The question remains: “whether or not Depleted Uranium plays a role in the cause of the many diseases, malformations and dead people and animals”.

Given the scientific complexity of the depleted uranium weapons issue and the misinformation that surrounds this issue in Sardinia, the authors of this report (which includes the testimonies of people we met) are not responsible if the contents is inaccurate.

Carla Goffi. Mouvement Chrétien pour la Paix
Ria Verjauw, Belgian Coalition ‘for a ban on depleted uranium weapons’ - Friends of the Earth ‘Flanders Brussels‘