The battle for clean water
What does it mean to build a fraternal city when it implies injustice, polluted water and health risks for their children? “No PFAS” mothers shared.
One mother is enough to make a revolution. But if you put some more mothers next to her, maybe wounded by an injustice suffered by their children, maybe engaged in a fight to defend her “puppy”, you’re done!
They were six when they started, but today they are over 2,000: they are the “No PFAS mothers”, a group of parents struggling to get clean water, because unfortunately a very large area of the Veneto Region, concerning 21 municipalities in the provinces of Vicenza, Padua, and Verona, in Northern Italy, today does not have any.
It all began a little over a year ago: the Local Health Authority proposed to carry out voluntary blood tests for the research of PFAS, substances used in the chemical industry which, if found in human blood and tissues, act as endocrine disruptors and can strongly affect the onset of tumors and other diseases. PFAS stands for “perfluoroalkyl substances“.
«We did not know that these chemicals unknown until then to all, would become our invisible enemies» – says Anna Maria Panarotto, a No PFAS mother.
The reference values of the PFAS in human blood range from 0 to a maximum of 8 nanograms per millilitre, but almost all samples showed values above 100, therefore 100 times higher. It is like removing the lid from a pot, bringing to light so many truths which have been hidden for decades: the substances spilled for more than 40 years, shamelessly, by the local chemical industry into the water and into the ground, have contaminated the second largest water table in Europe.
The alarm was immediately launched and set out a screening of the entire population from 14 to 65 years old. The results of the blood tests are like blades that affect every single family.
“When a mother receives such news, that all her children are contaminated, her heart worries, she gets sad, and she gets very angry too“.
The mothers look for each other, they talk about it out of school, out of catechism, at each other’s home to understand what is happening, and the tam-tam becomes as strong as their pain. But anger is soon taken over by a strong determination to do something as mothers, as citizens, to explore and tackle the problem. This is how the “No PFAS mothers” group was born, which now includes thousands of mothers, fathers, and teens, who fight for a denied primary good: clean, unpolluted water; therefore, they fight for their own health.
“First of all, we studied all the information we could obtain, even asking for copies of documents from the various bodies that had carried out many checks over the years. After studying the documents, we went to meet the institutions, beginning with our mayors; we met the carabinieri of the ecological operational nucleus, the regional councillors, the president of the Veneto Regional Government, up to the Minister for the Environment in Rome.”
The method used by these mothers is “dialogue” – dialogue with everyone: citizens, politicians, and institutions, in the aim to find a solution. This dialogue also involved the local Church, and the Bishop gave them a decisive support, but not only. In fact, the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Parolin, was born in Schiavon, a town in this area, and he communicated to the group the participation and encouragement of the Pope for their battle:.
“The Pope encouraged us to continue with patience and perseverance in seeking the best ways to solve the problem and assured us of his closeness and his prayer to Our Lady of Mount Berico, patron saint of our diocese, so that we may be given the gifts of wisdom and fortitude”.
Also thanks to this support, the meetings that follow are straightforward and peer-to-peer: “We were well prepared and we knew what we had to ask: we positioned ourselves at the side of politicians who made us the shores to help us keep digging into the problem.”
The aim was to have the various institutions sitting around the same ‘table of dialogue’ to find a path to resolution, without ceasing to make our voices heard. A big event was organized in October 2017, with a participation of over 10,000 people.
Fifty mayors, two presidents of Provincial Governments, representatives of the Veneto Region, all national environmental organizations, local committees and associations, schools, and a great number of citizens filled the streets of Lonigo, one of the most involved municipalities: “Following this mobilization, our request for clean water resulted in the installation, by plant operators, of a series of filters that can temporarily stop the PFAS, while the Veneto Region has deliberated on the limits of PFAS in the waters, establishing lower reference values.”
This work of diplomacy and mediation eventually lead to a meeting with the participation of the Regional Councillor for the Environment, the general director of the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection, a woman senator, a woman MP, the minister with his officials from the Ministry of Environment, and a group of “No PFAS mothers.” It was February 6, 2018. A ‘work table’ that unlocked some situations and paved the way to take some steps forward. The path is still uphill, but some results are already visible.
These wonderful mothers, in fact, are demonstrating how they can be active builders of the city, and how well they know, for example, the problems of the health care system through the children and the elderly they assist, as well as the problems of school, the hardship of market trends, the environmental and structural state of the city… A mother who consciously lives out her political role, can become a real point of reference, capable of authentic innovative proposals.
“Building the fraternal city also means taking on its wounds and facing them,” concludes Anna Maria. “To this purpose, citizens need politicians to solve problems and politicians need citizens to stay grounded. Citizens and politicians together can solve problems.”