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fire in a plant 30 kms from venice

Last Wednesday 18 April, 30 kms from Venice, a fire destroyed the 35,000 square metre De Longhi factory in Treviso. Though 800 workers were present, there were, luckily, no casualties. The fire produced high clouds of black smoke which could be seen in Venice where there is, fortunately, no danger of dioxin contamination. Not far away, another fire occurred on Thursday, and the cascade of statistics and news caused confusion among the local residents.

On Wednesday afternoon, the first alert issued by the Carabinieri's experts was about the possible release of dioxin in the burning plastic. By evening, authorities declared there was no danger except in the immediate vicinity where houses were evacuated and that, despite pollution levels slightly above the legal limit, no toxic substances were found. Less than 24 hours later, a second fire occurred in Cordignano, near Conegliano, in a mattress plant. Remembering the 1976 disaster at Seveso -- a northern Italian city where an explosion at a chemical factory created a cloud of dioxin -- many residents in the area between Treviso and Venice chose not to return home and spent the night in the surrounding towns. Later, dioxin was detected -- at levels 2.7 higher than permitted -- in the area of the De Longhi fire, and analyses are being conducted to determine the effect on agricultural production on the mainland; results will be known within a week.

In the meanwhile, no restriction are being place on consumption of locally produced food, but some "suggestions" have been made, such as avoiding exercise in the open air. Still, four schools were closed in Treviso as a precaution while, at the same time, officials at the regional environmental agency, Arpav, keep reassuring inhabitants. The lack of clear communication, especially concerning the second fire, is at the centre of the debate: the mayor and environmental delegate in Cordignano are blaming Arpav because no data have been published about the substances that may have been inhaled. The boundary between avoiding panic and taking precautions against possible risks is not clear. The distance between the location of the fire and Venice seems to ensure there's no likelihood of contamination in Venice.

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