LONDON (CNI)--Environmental groups have criticised an Italian court ruling to acquit former Montedison and EniChem executives of manslaughter in the deaths of workers at the Porto Marghera chemicals plant, and described Montedison's contribution to the costs of cleaning up the plant as "peanuts".
Montedison confirmed on Monday that it has agreed with the Italian government to pay Lire550bn ($257m/Euro284m) towards the costs of cleaning up environmental contamination in about nine of the most polluted areas of the Venice lagoon and the soil around the Porto Marghera plant.
The settlement was agreed on 31 October, two days before the court in Mestre, Venice acquitted the Montedison and EniChem executives. Following the agreement, the Environment Ministry has said it will not appeal against the Mestre verdict.
A spokesman for Italian industrial group Montedison said Lire25bn of the Lire550bn settlement has been paid directly to the Environment Ministry and the remainder will be paid to the Porto Marghera authorities as and when the various clean-up projects are approved.
Twenty-eight executives had been accused of "manslaughter with foresight" of workers at the Porto Marghera vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) complex, which was operated formerly by Montedison and latterly by EniChem, during the period 1965-1985. The executives were also accused of polluting the Venice lagoon during the period.
Greenpeace campaigner Fabrizio Fabbri criticised the government for accepting the Lire550bn settlement because it is "peanuts" compared with the government's Lire70trn estimate for the cost of the clean-up. He also questioned why part of the sum was paid directly to the Environment Ministry.
The environmental pressure group took the opportunity to urge chemicals producers to improve their environmental performance. "The Venice lagoon is just one of many areas around the world that are being poisoned by irresponsible companies and, sadly, these Italian workers represent just some of many that are suffering as a result," stated Domitilla Senni, executive director of Greenpeace Italy.
The Venice City Council has said it will appeal against the Mestre verdict. According to local reports, the public prosecutor, Felice Casson, is examining the verdict before deciding whether to launch an appeal.
Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are discussing what action to take now. "All environmental organisations now need to fight even harder," said Fabbri.