Dozens of Sicilian cities are bankrupt because of the cost of cleaning up Etna’s volcanic ash, which has been erupting regularly since February.
The Italian government allocated € 5 million on Monday to compensate several villages struggling to get rid of volcanic ash, the cost of which can reach more than € 1 million with each eruption.
“The situation is very serious,” said Alfio Previtera, a councilor for the city of Giarre, one of the villages hardest hit by the ashes of Mount Etna. “Streets, squares, roofs, balconies, cars – everything is covered with ash. About 25,000 tons of ash have fallen on our city since March. People use umbrellas for protection. ”
According to Italian law, ash is classified as hazardous waste, which increases disposal costs to around € 20 per cubic meter.
“With every eruption, Etna spits tens of thousands to 200,000 cubic meters of ash,” says Boris Behncke, volcanologist at the National Institute for Geophysics in Catania. “This is a serious problem for municipalities.”
“To address this emergency, several cities have amassed enormous debts,” said Previtera. ” We are facing a financial collapse. ”
To avoid bankruptcy of the villages, the Senate passed a law last week that ashes are no longer considered hazardous waste.
“The law will significantly reduce disposal costs,” says Silvio Grasso, engineer and head of civil defense at Giarre. “The law provides, for example, that the ashes can be used in agriculture to multiply the soil or in construction as cement or filler material. The problem persists, of course, because Etna has not yet completely erupted. ”
Etna, which is 3,300 meters above sea level, has been erupting in a spectacular way with 2,000 meter high lava fountains since February. Volcanologists at the National Institute of Geophysics in Catania who study the ash say it reflects what they call “primitive magma” that comes out of the mountain’s bowels and carries a larger charge of gas, which explains the unusually high eruptions.
Thousands of residents and farmers live and work on the volcano and have to struggle with an almost constant rain of ash on roofs and balconies.
“It gets really annoying,” says Pinella Astorina, 74, who lives in Trecastagni, a small town on the slopes of the volcano. “We spend the day removing the ashes from our homes. The problem is when it builds up on the roofs and can clog the drain pipes. It can cost 300-400 euros to remove the ashes from your roof. “
The national civil protection service has scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss the inconvenience for citizens. Local authorities have advised people to wear protective masks outdoors again after the Italian government lifted the obligation to wear protective masks against Covid-19 earlier this month.