1948-1963: getting used to the toxicity of the factory

6S 1948-1963 Una fabbrica e l’abitudine ai suoi veleni (2) 1-12


The Seveso population had already been protesting against ICMESA since 1948 due to the gas and bad odours coming from the Certesa stream, which the surveys attributed to the waste drains of the Meda factory. In fact, in 1949, the Municipal Council of Seveso dealt with the wastewaters discharged into the stream without first being suitably purified by the ICMESA and which emitted “a nauseating atmosphere with unbearable odours.”

The councillors noted the continual complaints of the town and decided to look into the matter since in some areas of the municipality, the air was judged to be “absolutely unbreathable due to the emissions coming from the effluents of the ICMESA factory in Meda”. This was why the Municipal Council urged the mayor to investigate the noxiousness of the gas issued from the Brianza industry, and with the collaboration of the mayor of Meda, undertook to formally report to the “higher authorities,” in order to oblige the company to carry out those operations necessary to eliminate the serious hygienic issues observed.
After a few years, on 2 May 1953 the veterinary office of the Municipality of Seveso identified an intoxication of sheep due to the dumpings of ICMESA. Upon going to the factory “also with the aim of gathering the necessary information on which to base the treatment of the sheep struck and still not deceased,” the consortium veterinary, Malgarini did not obtain any clarifications to this regard, due to the “reticence” of the Meda factory’s representative. On 1 July of the same year, the health official, Del Campo, communicated to the Mayor of the Meda Muncipality that “a disagreeable toxic episode with the death of 13 sheep” had occurred in the Certesa stream “immediately downstream to the discharge of waste waters of the ICMESA factory.” In his report he stressed that ICMESA produced “acetates, salicylates and alcohols,” certifying the noxiousness of the Certesa waters due to the discharge of production waste waters by the factory. Due to this, Del Campo retained that there were all the grounds to qualify the Meda factory as an “Unhealthy Industry.” Six days later the Medese industry, with a long note signed by the Managing Director, Rezzonico, affirmed that he disagreed with what the health official had asserted and rejected the responsibility for the death of the 13 sheep. The company furthermore, did not accept the possibility of being classified as an “Unhealthy Industry,” and highlighted the fact that also the waters upstream to the factory emanated an awful smell. With that letter, ICMESA undertook to improve the equipment for the elimination of bothersome odours and noise, hoping that the episode would not create with regard to the factory and its activities, “that atmosphere of diffidence and criticism,” which according to the company administration was unjustified.
On 28 August 1953, the ICMESA reaffirmed its own position, considering also as “absurd” the accusations against an industry that was working “honestly and in environmental and health conditions that were among the most modern in Italy.”
Nine years later the Mayor of Meda, who on 5 April 1962 had already asked the company to inform them on the development of the industrial discharge situation, notified the ICMESA that in the last Municipal Council meeting, some councilors had noted that very often, to the north of the factory there had been fires of waste material that emitted “unbreathable smoke clouds” harmful to public health.
The mayor invited the company to adopt the necessary measures in burning the wastes to avoid the hygienic problems the population complained of. On 14 May 1962, the ICMESA once again rejected the accusations limiting the episode to only one fire, developed for unknown reasons and immediately extinguished after 45 minutes. However, the company ensured its maximum commitment to avoid similar problems.
After more than a year, on 7 May 1963, the Mayor of Meda again took action against ICMESA with regard to a new fire of sludge and production wastes dumped on the ground, and not fenced on the company’s estate, underlining that this had generated panic among the population and had constituted a serious danger for the railway and mobility in the bordering areas. The industry was also asked to make provisions to avoid similar episodes and was reminded that the sludge and wastes could not be abandoned on the land, but had to be “disposed of with procedures able to safeguard public and private safety.” After four days ICMESA’s answer arrived, placing every responsibility for the fire on some shepherds who had stopped close to the factory, and after lighting a fire, had run away. The company ensured that it would take steps, more frequently than it had in the past, to bury the sludge with soil from other areas to prevent new incidents. To conclude, the company evidenced that the district was, however, isolated and was far enough from the railway and the factory, and that there was no cause for the population to worry. Prodded by the Mayor, on 25 May 1963 the ICMESA undertook also to fencing out the deposit of the slags dumped north to the factory.