Dozens of Sicilian cities are threatened with bankruptcy due to the cost of cleaning up the volcanic ash left by Mount Etna, which has been erupting regularly since February.
The Italian government allocated 5 million euros on Monday to compensate several villages that are struggling to pay to get rid of volcanic ash, the cost of which can reach more than 1 million euros with each eruption.
“The situation is very serious,” said Alfio Previtera, a municipal official in the town of Giarre, one of the villages most affected by the ashes of Mount Etna. Streets, squares, roofs, balconies, cars, everything is covered with ash. Since March, around 25,000 tonnes of ashes have fallen on our town. People use umbrellas for protection. ”
According to Italian law, ash is considered special waste, which increases the cost of its disposal to around € 20 (£ 17) per cubic meter.
“With each eruption, Etna spits tens of thousands to 200,000 cubic meters of ash,” explains Boris Behncke, volcanologist at the National Institute of Geophysics in Catania. “It is a serious problem for the municipalities.
“To deal with this emergency, several cities have accumulated huge debt,” said Previtera. “We are facing a financial collapse.
To avoid the bankruptcy of the villages, the Senate last week approved a law according to which the ashes should no longer be considered as special waste.
“The law will significantly reduce disposal costs,” explains Silvio Grasso, engineer and head of civil protection at Giarre. “The law provides, for example, that the ashes can be used in agriculture to make the land more fertile, or in construction as a cementing or filling material. Of course, the problem also persists because Etna has not yet finished erupting.
Since February, Mount Etna, 3,300 meters (10,800 feet) above sea level, has erupted dramatically, with lava fountains 2,000 meters high. Volcanologists at the National Institute of Geophysics in Catania who study the ash say it reflects what they call “primitive magma,” which originates from the bowels of the mountain and carries a greater charge of gas, which explains why unusually tall rashes.
Thousands of residents and farmers live and work on the volcano, and have to cope with an almost constant rain of ash on the roofs and balconies.
“It’s getting really annoying,” says Pinella Astorina, 74, who lives in Trecastagni, a small town on the slopes of the volcano. “We spend the day removing ashes from our homes. The problem is when it builds up on roofs, potentially clogging the drains. It could cost between 300 and 400 euros to remove the ashes from your roof.
The national civil protection service has scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss the inconvenience caused to citizens. Local authorities have advised people to wear protective masks outside again after the Italian government lifted the requirement to wear them against Covid-19 earlier this month.