The Sarno River is a waterway that springs in the Picentini Mountains and extends to the Gulf of Naples. Its length is only 25 km but its reservoir, which is not easily extended, reaches 500 square kilometres and involves almost one million people.
Although in the past, being easily navigable, it allowed cities like Scafati and Pompeii to flourish for a long time, to the point of also being described as a deity, today the river represents, according to a parliamentary act of 2005 and the Handbook of Water Purity, the most polluted perennial watercourse in Europe and among the five most polluted in the world.
This condition of extreme pollution is mainly due to the chemical substances illegally poured into the Solofrana River, the largest tributary of the Sarno, by the hundreds of tanning industries that rise above the watercourse. Among the most dangerous substances there is Hexavalent Chromium, a chemical used for the colouring of hides which, when poured in large quantities, colours the water with a reddish tone. This substance is present inside the river water with values 900 times higher than the norm, together with other carcinogenic substances including pesticides used by the numerous farms within its water basin.
These substances are partly transported to the sea, where the currents repel them towards the coast making more than 7 km of beach between the Gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast impassable. Another large part, instead, is deposited on the river bed, to then cement and raise its level up to several meters. This factor, together with the enormous quantity of solid waste thrown into the different channels that accumulate in various points of the river and do not allow the normal passage of water, causes the river and its rivers to overflow on rainy days, causing serious flooding of contaminated water that invades the cities and crops along its course.
Within this framework, Metàstasis explores the delicate and controversial symbiosis between the river and the people living along its banks. In a climate of total abandonment and isolation from the outside world, the people, victims and perpetrators of this condition, live their relationship with the river every day: some of them have decided to fight this insurmountable and now irreversible disease through environmental activism, information and public awareness; others continue to take advantage, consciously or unconsciously, of the serious lack of control and sensitivity to the issue, perpetrating the destruction of this important ecosystem.
San Marzano Sul Sarno, Salerno, November 2018.
Entrance to the ring road closed due to flooding due to the overflow of a canal in the Sarno river basin. The cementing over the years of the illegally poured substances led to the raising of the river bed and its channels, creating several floods during rainy days.
Scafati, Salerno, November 2018.
Luigi looks at his garden from the backyard. He lives near the San Tommaso canal, one of the many tributaries of the Sarno river, since he was born. During his life he has seen several floods that polluted nearby crops and lost most of his family due to diseases and tumors of the respiratory tract.
Solofra, April 2019. Solofra civil purifier. Inside the purifier, used for the exclusive treatment of urban wastewater, the chemicals necessary for the treatment of leather are introduced by the hundreds of tanneries present in the city. Among these chemicals, the most visible is hexavalent chromium, which, if poured in large quantities, dyes the water a bright red colour. These purifiers are not able to purify the chemicals poured by the industries, which will then be discharged into the river without any treatment. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Scafati, November 2018. Bed of a compensation channel. These channels were initially used to make the city safe in the event of flooding of the river, but due to the raising of its bed by more than three meters due to the chemical agents cemented on its seabed since the 1970s, they are now carriers of solid waste and chemicals carried by the river.
San Marzano Sul Sarno, Salerno, November 2018. Two men talk in front of the large block of solid waste brought from the canal. These rubbish, blocking along the course of the river, have raised the water level with consequent overflows during rainy or flooding days. The flooding often also involved the numerous cultivations present in the Sarno valley, leading to the contamination of vegetables with chemicals and waste spilled further upstream.
April 2019, Solofra. View of one of the city's many civilian drains. Normally the channels of these drains should be almost dry but during the rainy season the water level rises due to illegal discharges from the city's tanneries.
Solophra, April 2019. View of the city of Solofra, home to more than 400 tanning industries and one of the main sources of pollution in the river basin. These industries, in fact, often discharge the chemical agents, necessary for the process of coloring and treatment of hides and skins, directly into the river or into purifiers used for the treatment of civil wastewater which, therefore, are not able to purify these substances that will then be released into the river.
Solophra, April 2019. Portrait of Ermete De Maio, activist and environmentalist who for over fifty years has been fighting for the reclamation and restoration of the Solofrana, the main tributary and source of pollution of the river Sarno.
Scafati, November 2018. View of a house that stands on one of the canals that cross the city. During the winter rains these canals often overflow and transport solid waste and chemicals from upstream tributaries.
Scafati, November 2018. Heap of solid waste poured by farmers The interior of the San Tommaso Canal. Often, in addition to this waste, various pesticides and chemicals used in agriculture are also released into the river.
Sarno, November 2018. A floriculturist picks some mushrooms on his land. The Scafati flower market, one of the biggest in Italy, has suffered several crises in the past years. Due to the frequent flooding of the river during the winter months, in fact, the cultivations, especially those that rise near the river, often end up being flooded.
Scafati, November 2018. View of civil sewage treatment plant. This sewage treatment plant only works at a quarter of its capacity, due to the lack of infrastructure that should connect it to the sewerage networks of nearby cities.
Lower Nocera, April 2019. One of many civil discharges poured directly into the river. Due to the lack of sewers, all the civil discharges of half of the municipalities in the Sarno reservoir discharge their urban wastewater directly into the river, without passing through any sewage treatment plant. In addiction to that, manu industries over the river reverse their chemicals directly into the river. Among these chemicals, the most visible is hexavalent chromium, which, if poured in large quantities, dyes the water a bright red colour.
Torre Annunziata, November 2018. View from the top of the mouth of the river Sarno. All the chemical and solid waste from the river then flows into the sea, making almost 10km of coastline between the Gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast unsuitable for swimming.
San Marzano Sul Sarno, Salerno, November 2018.
Staircase of a house that stands on the Sarno River. The cementing of illegally poured chemicals over the years has led to the raising of the river bed and its canals, creating several floods during rainy days.
Torre Annunziata, April 2019. A volunteer rests once finished cleaning the beaches from waste sent back from the sea currents. This waste, chemical and solid waste, present in the river pours into the sea, making almost 10km of coast between the Gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast unsuitable for bathing.
Castellammare di Stabia, November 2018. An old chest of drawers on the beach. All the chemical and solid waste from the river pours into the sea which then takes it back to the beaches, making almost 10km of coast between the Gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast unsuitable for swimming. Thanks to the presence of some associations in the area, the beaches are cleaned periodically by several volunteers, trying to limit the problem.
Torre Annunziata, November 2018. David poses for a portrait in front of the beach. He is part of an association that deals with the cleaning of beaches from waste brought from the sea. In fact, all the chemical and solid waste from the river that spills into the sea makes almost 10km of coast between the Gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast unfit for bathing because of the currents that send this waste back to shore and make the water polluted and harmful to health.
Torre Annunziata, November 2018. View of Vesuvius with garbage heap on the beach. All the chemical and solid waste from the river pours into the sea, making almost 10km of coast between the Gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast unfit for bathing, due to the currents that send this waste back to shore and make the water polluted and harmful to health.