In Sicily, A Plague of Cancer Overwhelms an Oil Refinery Town

Watch the video at e360.

The Augusta-Priolo petroleum refinery complex, one of Europe’s largest, has for more than 50 years spewed a toxic brew of pollutants into the air and water of eastern Sicily. In recent decades, the roughly 60,000 residents of surrounding towns have experienced abnormally high rates of cancer, an outbreak that one comprehensive study has shown is tied to emissions from the refineries.

In his new documentary, “Venerable Augusta” — winner of the 2018 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest — Italian filmmaker Francesco Cannavà depicts the crisis in Augusta and nearby towns through the eyes of the local priest, Father Palmiro Prisutto. We follow him and other Augusta residents as they stage a demonstration against government inaction in the face of a deadly epidemic. “The accusation I am making today against the Italian state is this: Our cancer dead have been murdered,” says Prisutto. “For some time, the population has repeated this chorus: ‘Better to die of cancer than of hunger.’ This saying is unacceptable. One cannot trade health and life merely for a job.”

Also featured in the film is Augusta resident and cancer patient Carmelo Miano, who, shortly before he dies, says, “The Fifth Commandment says, ‘Thou shall not kill.’ Here, instead, they are killing everyone.’”

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