L'oeil public



or After me the Flood!

See the book (french edition)

I circled the earth in 2018. It only takes a few hours because it is so small and fragile. And wherever I have looked, it got lost in the dark. A river, dead, over a distance of 650 kilometers, deformed fish, radioactive forests, children born with no eyes, the mafia dealing in toxic waste, plastic adrift in the ocean forming particles that are now part of a grotesque food chain. How have we let this happen?

Contaminations addresses cases of irredeemable industrial pollution which, over decades and even centuries, has turned into areas unfit for living beings. Here we have a world tour of areas contaminated by humans in the 21st century, be the chemical, mining and nuclear industries, where entire swathes of the planet earth have been fouled for generations to come.

Methane, prussic acid, phosgene, red phosphorus, ethylene oxide, polyvinyl chloride, and phenols; arsenic, cyanide and chlorine derivatives; hydrogen sulfide, caustic soda, petroleum, bisphenol, DDT and PCBs are compounds now present in the soil, water and food chain, and it could be decades or centuries, or sometimes even millennia, before they return to levels that can be tolerated by humans.

Given this facts, the PR/Communication statements from industry appear to be both cynical and antagonistic. Spokespersons for oil companies when talking about the oil sands, claim they are producing green energy. In Brazil, polluters notorious for corrupt practices are never found guilty. In Fukushima, TEPCO, the operator of the nuclear power plant, has lobbied to dump millions of liters of contaminated water into the ocean; and rate of cancer have soared. But industry will not miss out on the prospect of making a dollar. After me the Flood!

For twenty years I have been working on social issues, and invariably thought that such stories were not mine. Perhaps I Believed I could shield myself from the impact of the experience of those vulnerable beings, thinking I was lucky enough not to be in the same situation as the people I was photographing. Now I have crossed the world, and seen how vulnerable and fragile the planet Earth is. We have produced waste which is everywhere, contaminating land, sea and air. The vast oceans are littered with filth, all the way to polar regions, and there are already thousands of tons of debris in outer space. To continue thus is to be blind. These stories are ours.



Alberta — Canada

It was prophesied that one day

leaders would be controlled by the Dark Side.

We used to live by the water where the trees were green and the water was blue. When we worked in the heartland, in amongst the trees, we had our spiritual identity. When the industrial plants were set up, the snow turned a murky yellow, the animals started dying, the birds didn’t fly the way they used to, the fish were deformed, sometimes
with two heads or two mouths, and with lumps all over their bodies.

And I got cancer, for the first time.
The whites turned us into slaves and killed our land.

- Edward Marten, Fort Chipewyan

Alberta is the scene of the largest gold rush – for black gold – of modern times. More than 170 billion barrels of oil sands can be mined: the second-largest deposit in the world,
there beneath the boreal forest covering an area one-fourth the size of France.

Bitumen, naphthenic acids, cyanide, phenols, arsenic, cadmium, chrome, copper, lead, zinc, and more, in billions of hectoliters of toxic waste, of mining sludge, and it all ended up in the huge tailings storage lakes polluted with hydrocarbons and toxins that are carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic, lakes where wild ducks die.

One of the last virgin forests in the world is razed, the course of rivers are changed and polluted. Nearly all the caribou have gone… and the cancer rate in Lake Athabasca villages is 30% higher than in other parts of the province.


For Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada from 2006 to 2015, the Alberta oil sands project was akin to building the pyramids or the Great Wall of China.

The snow and sky have taken on a yellowish tinge, and the smell of sulfur, ammonia and petroleum sometimes pervades the city, but in Fort McMurray, this is called the “smell of money.”

Open-pit mining means razing one of the last virgin forests in the world, changing the course of rivers and polluting them so as to provide the vast quantities of water needed for high-pollution mining activity. But then the income figures for the oil companies are astronomical.

By 2020, the oil sands industry in Canada will be producing more greenhouse gases than a country the size of Austria or Denmark. In 2011, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, and now it will not be in a position to meet its target under the Paris Agreement. Yet for Terry Abel, Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, this is “green energy.”


We used to be in heaven here. For thousands of years we lived at the point where the river of gold flows into the Athabasca, in total harmony with Mother Nature. The earth provided us with everything we needed.

But fifty years ago, the government told us that our lifestyle was dying out and didn’t fit in any more. They wanted to move us so that they could use our land. The people who wanted to destroy the land to make money wanted to control our lives, without even telling us about it, without even consulting us.

Today there is toxic pollution everywhere. The smoke and fumes go everywhere, affecting plants and pastureland where animals graze. There is now toxic waste, including arsenic, in the water.

Lots of First Nations people have been dying of cancer; not just the old ones, but the young ones too.

– François Paulette, a chief from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories

 Before we would drink water from Peace River, but the only water we can drink now comes in bottles.

There is a ban on selling fish caught downstream from the industrial sites, all the way through to Lake Athabasca. In Fort Chipewyan, children and pregnant women are told not to eat any fish or fish products, and the cancer rate in the hamlet is 30% higher than in other parts of the province.


One day we started catching fish that were deformed. White man has killed our resources.

He has taken our water, our climate, everything. Once the white man has gone, there won’t be anything left. 

The forests and birds will all be gone.

My friends have died of cancer, my workmates have died of cancer, my mother died of cancer, and my brother and my cousins too. Fourteen members of my family have died because of their filthy work.

– Raymond Ladouceur, fisherman, Fort Chipewyan

Alberta has become a petroleum state, complete with conflicts of interest and people whose silence has been bought. A number of former ministers and even a former Prime Minister are working for companies such as Syncrude, Suncor, BP and Shell. Most of the First Nations chiefs have concluded agreements making their land available for use by the oil industry, and the sums involved have been kept secret.

 Industry has paid First Nations chiefs vast amounts of “shut-up money.”

The Fort McKay community agreed to a 99-year lease on their land.

Less than 1% of the land mined has been restored.

Some of the companies say that the land will be restored in 2110;

they promise that the land will be more pristine than it was before.

– Robert Grandjambe, fisherman, Fort Chipewyan

The wolves attack the caribou and they have nowhere to hide because the forest has been cleared.

Nearly all the caribou have gone. The wild ducks have gone.

Around 90% of our traditional food comes from the lake and the woods,

but now we have to eat white man’s processed food.

- Robert Grandjambe Junior, trapper, Fort Chipewyan


I’m like nature: I look healthy, but inside I’m full of cancer. 

There are so many cases of cancer at Fort Chip that it’s just become routine.

It’s David and Goliath. There are about 2000 people in our community. 

We’re not rich, we lead our lives, we get sick, and we die. 

We don’t have the money you need to sue companies that have billions of dollars.

Warren Simpson (48) worked for Suncor.

He now has cancer, for the second time. He has a very rare form of carcinoma.

Dr. O’Connor had been practicing medicine at Fort McMurray for ten years when he noticed the abnormal prevalence of cancer and autoimmune disease in the First Nations communities. He tried to send a warning message to the Canadian Department of Health, and the reply from the scientific experts was simply: “There is no problem around here.” This effectively stopped any research being conducted on the subject. Because of the stance he took, the health authorities banned him from practicing medicine for a period of three years.


With our qualifications, if we were anywhere else, we’d only be paid about 20% of what we get here.

We’re housed and have all our meals; we work in the mines for seven days, and then seven days in Fort McMurray.

We’re just in it for the money.

They work for the oil groups, come from all parts of Canada, and are between 20 and 30 years old.



Anniston – Alabama – USA

Not miss out on the prospect of making any dollar !

It’s not just the poison of the 20th century, it’s the poison of the 21st century too.

Before becoming a giant in the world of agriculture, Monsanto was originally a chemical company. The name Monsanto is associated with Agent Orange, the herbicide and defoliant it manufactured and which was used to such disastrous effect in the Vietnam War; and for much of the 20th century, the company marketed polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) around the world.

PCBs are toxic, and specifically ecotoxic and reprotoxic. Even at low doses, PCBs can cause cancer and have an effect on the immune system, the reproductive system, the central nervous system and the endocrine system. PCBs have been widely used as coolants and lubricants, for example in transformers and capacitors found in electrical equipment ranging from a refrigerator to a thermal power plant. They are extremely volatile, persisting in the air, and have even been detected in polar regions. As persistent pollutants, it can take up to 2,700 years for some of these compounds to break down.

The small city of Anniston, Alabama, with a population of 20,000, stands as the historic case of PCB pollution. Here, between 1929 and 1971, Monsanto manufactured 308,000 tonnes of PCBs, and over the same period, the plant released 27 tonnes of PCBs into the atmosphere, 810 tonnes into a nearby creek, and 32,000 tonnes into an open-air landfill site near the city center. The residents have gone, leaving everything behind, leaving hundreds of houses now in ruins. Anniston, once acclaimed as the “Model City,” is now known as “Toxic Town.”


At night, blue steam would come from the landfill and the puddles. We used to play there. We called them “blue holes.”

Reverend Thomas Long was born in Anniston. He has no more neighbors on Montrose Avenue as everyone has left. The PCB level measured in his living room is 140 times the maximum tolerated, but he does not want to leave his home.

They’ve demolished everything around me: two churches and fifty houses. The rest has just been abandoned. And if you want to see the children who were born in the 1980s, you need to go to the cemetery.

Monsanto said: “Don’t worry. We’ll look after it and clean up.” But then they were saying that there was no problem when their own studies had shown for years that the animals had liver and blood disorders. 

They contaminated the place for 70 years, and it’s still seeping out. They can buy their way out of whatever they want. 

The judges said that our illnesses must have been caused by our lifestyle.

Before we had gardens, and chickens and goats; and there were fruit trees. My father used to walk to work. That was in the good old days. 

Then, in the 1970s, the Monsanto people began offering to buy up our pigs: $25 each. They had just discovered unbelievable levels of PCB in animals drinking the water: 19,000 mg/kg.

It could be anywhere and everywhere; in the earth, a tomato, potatoes, animals, clothes not properly cleaned, or the water you washed them in. We didn’t know what to do to avoid contamination. We used to turn on fans facing the windows.

One day I went to give blood, and they found that I had Monsanto in my body.

They couldn’t give a damn about us. They’ve left us with contaminated homes, contaminated land, contaminated bodies. We live in a ghost town. We know more people who are dead than alive.

– Opal Scruggs


Monsanto set up its plant next to the black neighborhoods, and they used to dump the sludge from the bottom of the tanks there. People started panicking when the company wanted to buy the churches that were too close to the plant.

The grocer started keeping a record of the hundreds of names of people who had died of cancer. Babies were christened in the river, and they all died.

– Alberta McCrory, Mayor of Hobson City, Alabama, a small town near Anniston, with a majority Afro-American population.

Monsanto did not clean up the parks or public areas in the town, and no compensation was paid.


Kim Abernathy (36) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 17. Her sister had the same diagnosis at 15. Her father, aunt and cousin died of cancer. Her son suffers from asthma. Her nephew is autistic. Her neighbor also had cancer, and had both her legs amputated at the age of 14.

Everyone is sick!

They paid compensation to home owners, but not to tenants. She and her mother did not get any compensation. No one was tested, even though they live only 50 meters from the plant. They have no health insurance, nothing.


These are very poor neighborhoods. Financially they try to get by. They don’t have any insurance, and can’t afford to go to hospital, to have a diagnostic test, and of course there’s no preventive treatment.

Someone will have to explain to me one day why the children have problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, and hyperactivity. Some are born without eyes, or with one ear or twelve fingers. Some women grow whiskers. There are newborn babies with atrophied organs. There are more and more cases of autoimmune disease, and of autism.

– Angela Martin, pediatrician, Anniston, Alabama

Monsanto dumped waste straight into Snow Creek. PCB levels of up to 5000 mg/kg have been measured in deformed fish caught in the water. Thousands of tons of PCB-contaminated waste dumped on the hill still runs down into Choccolocco Creek which is polluted for miles.

Monsanto documents marked “CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy” show that for decades, the multinational company concealed what it was doing and, even more importantly, concealed the fact that it knew. In 1966, Monsanto executives were aware “that fish placed in the local creek would end up floating on their backs within ten seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if they had been boiled alive”. But they told no one.

In 1975, another study undertaken by the company showed that PCBs caused tumors in rats. Monsanto did not publish these findings. “We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business.”

Today, negotiations to clean up Snow Creek and Choccolocco Creek are still under way. According to certain scientists, there may not be a single mammal on earth without traces of PCB in its blood. Monsanto simply sends letters out to local residents reminding them not to plant anything in their gardens.




Rio Doce — Brazil 

The only thing I managed to save was my life.

On November 5, 2015, the iron ore tailings dam of the mining company Samarco, a joint venture of two mining giants, the Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton and the Brazilian company Vale, burst, spilling 62 billion liters of toxic waste (the equivalent of 187 oil tankers) into the Rio Doce, the fifth largest river in Brazil, and causing the worst environmental disaster in the history of the country.



Three villages were buried in a mudslide of toxic sludge; fish were asphyxiated, and wildlife and plant life were devastated. Over a distance of 650 kilometers, the river was polluted with residue from the mine: alumina, mercury, lead, manganese, selenium, cadmium and arsenic. Three nature reserves and half a million people were affected by the pollution. Today, the river, once so sweet and gentle (“doce”), has changed its name. It is now referred to as the “Dead River.”

While the effects on the full river and estuary ecosystem have not yet been established, scientists estimate that it will be decades before a proper balance is restored.


I left my home without taking anything, not even a shirt. I only had time to save my life. 

My neighbor’s son Thiago was swept away by the mudslide.

Jose do Nascimento de Jesus and his wife Maria Irene de Deus used to live in Bento Rodrigues, just a few meters downstream from the dam. The village, which had a population of 620, was swept away, swallowed up by 60 million tons of mining waste. The company had no emergency plan for evacuation, not even a warning siren.

Today, their house is submerged in contaminated water. They are still waiting for their village to be rebuilt.


Practices not in compliance with trade union standards, labor laws infringed, paramilitary groups called in, bribery and corruption of national officials in countries where the company operates mines: such are the elements that contribute to the reputation of the mining giant Vale.

In 2009, Vale paid out a total of $2.75 billion in shareholder dividends.

The investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil found that the company knew of the risk before the dam collapsed. Samarco, BHP Billiton and Vale were charged with crimes against the environment; 21 people were charged with homicide, and an engineer was charged with forging an environmental report.

As early as 2008, Samarco knew there were multiple problems with the dam. Instead of stopping mining and carrying out repairs, they patched up little bits of the dam. When it collapsed, I saw a river sweeping away cows, horses, trucks, cars, and bits of human bodies. Nineteen people died, including two children.

– Rodrigo Bustamante, chief of police leading the investigation


For four days, there hasn’t been any water in the village spring, so we’re drinking the water from the river.

I sit by the window and gaze at the river for hours, and I weep. They have taken away something that was part of us.

– Joana Brau, washer woman, Itapina, on the river


Life used to be peaceful around here. There was no pollution. 

I could see the mud coming; it was orange, there were dead fish. Samarco told the fisherman to collect all the fish. “If anyone asks questions, just say you don’t know anything about it, and hide the fish.”

– Simon Barbosa Dos Santos (74), a fisherman for more than 25 years, Regencia

When the mudslide hit, every living organism was asphyxiated, and died. Entire species have disappeared from the river. Samarco says that everything is fine, but they still say not to do any fishing. The entire ecological balance has been upset, and yellow fever has broken out in the area.


Francisco Eusebio, a fisherman (58), has five children, and is completely lost. He gazes at the lagoon all day long, and repairs his nets, but has no idea why he does it.


Regencia is 650 kilometers downstream from the dam, at the mouth of the Rio Doce. It is famous for the waves and for ecotourism, and is a key breeding area for the giant leatherback turtle, an endangered species.

Out at sea, 40 kilometers off the coast, the seaweed is dying. Traces of heavy metals can be found in the coral near Bahia, 200 kilometers north of the estuary. The turtles have survived since the ice age, but no one knows yet how they will be affected.

On August 7, 2017, a judge in Brazil suspended criminal proceedings related to the Samarco disaster. Samarco, which is exerting pressure on the government so that it can resume mining, has decided to stop paying compensation to victims after five years, on the grounds that everything will be back to normal by then.





Dzerjinsk — Russia

I’d love to forget all of this,
and live the way the Russians do.

We used to pour everything on the land near the Oka River. People would turn a blind eye to some of the rules, but there wasn’t the bribery and corruption there is now. These days you can pay to get whatever you want, no matter what rules there are on health and the environment.

- Mr. Levashov, a former worker in the Plexiglas factory, working on ether and acrylic polymers.

A lake with no water, entirely filled with toxic waste, and it is all but impossible to breathe the air. Walking by the lake, the shore is soft and covered in brown threads that adhere to shoes. The lake is referred to as the “black hole.” It is a blend of many chemicals, but what exactly? There is no data, not even from official ministries.

What is known is that there is 6000 cubic meters of liquid waste, 9000 cubic meters of semi-liquid waste, and 55,000 cubic meters of polymerized and hardened waste. The black hole is 18 meters deep and there is no barrier between it and the water table which is at a depth of only a few meters.

Nearly 300,000 tons of chemical waste was buried in the surrounding area. Prussic acid, phosgene, ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride, phenol, and derivatives of arsenic, cyanide and chlorine: such neurotoxic substances are in the air which the 300,000 residents have to breathe here in one of the most chemically polluted cities in the world according to the NGO Blacksmith Institute.


The city of Dzerzhinsk, named after Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police that later became the KGB, was a forbidden city. Here was the capital of the chemical industry where the USSR had its secret defense industry production facility; this was where yperite (mustard gas) and sarin gas were manufactured.

Nearly 300,000 tons of chemical waste was buried in the surrounding area. Prussic acid, phosgene, ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride, phenol, and derivatives of arsenic, cyanide and chlorine: such neurotoxic substances are in the air which the 300,000 residents have to breathe here in one of the most chemically polluted cities in the world according to the NGO Blacksmith Institute.

In 2003, the local death rate was totally disproportionate to the birth rate, with 2.6 deaths for every new birth, and with men dying at an average age of 42, and women at 47.


These are people who can survive without complaining, until they die, in silence. They just close the window and have a cup of tea in the kitchen.

– Vadim, journalist for the Dzerzhinsk Reporter

Nina and Valentina used to work in the weapons factories, as did the others in their neighborhood of Sukharenko. Workers were not allowed to talk about what they did in the factory, and for Nina and Valentina the situation has not changed today. There is only one thing they mention, which is that all their friends are dead.

In Soviet industry, workers never reached retirement age.

In the Soviet period, every Saturday we used to purge the gases. The bosses were never there, and there were no checks or monitoring.

My husband used to say to keep the windows closed on Saturdays. It was impossible to breathe.

Nowadays there are hundreds of companies without any monitoring that have been set up in the ruins of the Soviet industrial complexes. Production figures on official documents are nowhere near the real manufacturing levels in the factories. Waste is handled between 10pm and 3am. Trucks take the chemical waste and apparently it is dumped straight into the Oka River. It seems that over the last three years, the volume of toxic gases released into the atmosphere has gone up even further.

The black hole, the white sea, and the mountain of waste. There may be a hundred or more unauthorized industrial waste disposal sites around the city. The water table and wells are polluted down to a depth of 20 meters.


There was an institute studying occupational hazards and health, and they noticed that women were suffering from diseases, but the findings of the studies were kept secret. “Women can still work in the factories. They just bleed more than usual when giving birth.” 

There were a lot of deformities, heart conditions, and spinal problems. Infant mortality was nearly twice the rate in the nearby town of Nizhny Novgorod, and the authorities blamed us!

Today, the effects of pollution can be seen on the immune system and the endocrine system. When women born in Dzerzhinsk, are pregnant, they do not spontaneously go into labor and have contractions, but need to have labor induced.

– Gratcha Mouradian, former doctor and head of the maternity unit in Dzerzhinsk for 40 years

No statistics are available. All that is known is that cancer rates in the region are much higher, in fact the highest in Russia. One-third of all deaths can be linked to cancer. Some doctors have attempted to alert the authorities to such health problems, only to be accused of being foreign agents.


Pressure is exerted on the media. We are not allowed in, not even near the Oka River. Two months ago, they set fire to my car. In 2016, I was jailed for three days because I was driving without a seat belt. One year before that, they took my dog; it was found 800 kilometers away. We’re in danger if we just talk to foreign journalists, but what more can I lose?

– Vadim, journalist for the Dzerzhinsk reporter


Nadezhda (45) and her daughter Alona (14) live in district number 13, on Lenin Boulevard. Alona has a spinal deformity and a mental disability.

There are a lot of disabled children here, but the doctors never want to mention any link to the chemical industry. We don’t get any support from the government, we don’t have proper housing for our special needs. I live with my mother in a communal apartment, but there’s not enough space for everyone, so I’ve had to rent another place, but it’s near the factories.


Knowing that these compounds have a half-life of 300 years, how can you expect things to get better?

– Diana, a chemist. Diana’s husband, who worked in an arms factory, died of cancer.

The wind blows from Dzerzhinsk over to the east, to the city of Nizhny Novgorod (population: 1.3 million), just a short distance away. There, the Oka River flows into the Volga, one of the most polluted waterways in Russia.

Chlorine, copper and dioxins absorbed by the water table combine with PCBs and mercury in the river which is where the city pumps its drinking water. The city of Nizhny Novgorod has the highest death rate in Russia.



Naples — Italia

They probably have only twenty years to live.

Campania is commonly described as a pleasant and fertile region. But in the municipality of Casal di Principe, for years now, the mafia has been incinerating and burying waste that comes from any number of sources. Former members of the Mafia who became informants, the pentiti, have alleged that more than 100,000 tonnes of toxic waste was disposed of in the region between 1991 and 2013, stating that some 400,000 semi-trailers transported the waste from 443 Italian companies which had negotiated a deal with the Camorra.

Aluminum dross, flue dust, paint sludge, liquid waste containing heavy metals, asbestos, tannery waste, even atomic waste from nuclear power plants in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are just some of what has been dumped, incinerated and buried in Europe’s first illegal industrial waste site, between Naples and Caserta and extending towards the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Everything runs into the water table and the crops. Six large wastewater treatment plants had been built, but only one was working; the others simply released the untreated water into the irrigation canals built in the 18th century when the Bourbons ruled over this part of Italy, canals which then flow into the sea.

Even the Italian government now refers to the area as the “land of tumors” (“terra di tumori”).


When my doctor saw the dioxin level in my blood test, he asked if I worked in a chemical plant.

The canals gradually became open-air sewers where people dumped dead animals, sewage, and household waste; then cars, and waste from textile factories and from workshops manufacturing counterfeit articles; and later on, hospital waste, industrial waste, and radioactive waste. You can even find tombstones.

– Enzo Tosti, salesman for baked/pastry products

Life expectancy in and around Naples is eight years less than for the rest of Italy.


The trash is scattered along highways, under bridges and in canals. Rats scavenge in amongst asbestos, broken computers and old paint cans.

By 2011, the authorities in Campania had found more than 5,300 sites suspected of being dumps.

The ground is full of toxic substances that get into the grass and hay. In 2008, a ban was placed on the sale of buffalo-milk mozzarella (a specialty of Caserta): the cheese from 15% of the 173 cheese factories in the provinces of Caserta, Avellino and Naples had dioxin levels above the threshold set by the European Commission.


There’s contamination in every village.

People here are likely to die of cancer. They probably have only twenty years to live.

– Carmine Schiavone, a pentito formerly with the Camorra

The US Navy, which has a base in Naples, spent $30 million on a study to assess the risk for the troops in the region. Their experts found areas with unacceptable health risks, including parts of central Naples. They advised against using water to drink, make ice cubes, or even brush teeth. The list of toxic substances included uranium, tetrachloroethylene, a known carcinogen used as an industrial solvent, and copper. The American military in the region were told not to take ground-floor accommodation to avoid inhaling contaminated gases coming from the ground.

The worst hazard is uranium, with abnormally high levels detected in 31% of homes, and specifically in the area around Casal di Principe, the domain of the Casalesi family, a powerful clan within the Camorra.

We never thought there was any risk, yet we were living in an area with the highest rate of infant mortality. They found the sort of tumors that you would find in a 50-year-old who had spent his life working with asbestos, but it was my nine-year-old son. There’s no treatment, and Antonio died one year later, in 2013. it was a brain tumor, a Glioblastoma Multiforme. I ended up infertile. My blood levels are frightening: dioxin and cadmium, and other heavy metals. This is farmland, but with diseases found in industrial areas.

– Marcia Caccioppoli (42)

The number of tumors in infants and children in the city of Acerra, with a population of only 56,000, is six times higher than in other parts of Italy. A study by the Istituto Nazionale Tumori “Fondazione Pascale” found that over the past seven years cancer-related mortality rates in the “triangle of death” had increased by 15 or 20%, and that in some cities such as Acerra had gone up by more than 30%.


In the “land of tumors,” 92% of the well-water used as a household water supply poses an unacceptable health risk, with more than 50% containing traces of tetrachloroethylene, a known carcinogen. More than half the samples taken from central Naples were reported as hazardous, and contained traces of uranium.




Fukushima — Japan

I just wondered
when we were going to die.

Flakes from the explosion were falling out of the sky. I just wondered when we were going to die.

– Katsutaka Idogawa, former Mayor of Futaba

On March 11, 2011, after a magnitude 9 earthquake, a tsunami hit Fukushima, and three of the reactors at the nuclear power plant exploded. This was one of the 25 largest nuclear power plants in the world, provided 10% of Japan’s power supply. Some 32 million Japanese were exposed to radiation released by the explosion. Since the disaster, the number of cases of childhood thyroid cancer in the region has increased by a factor of 500.

More than seven years later, there are still radioactive leaks. Yet less than five kilometers away, some areas are gradually being opened up again. The government is urging communities to move back, even though many zones are still contaminated, and only 10% of those who were evacuated want to return, for the most part elderly citizens who say they have little to lose.

The Prefecture of Fukushima (meaning “island of happiness”) is 80% forestland. No decontamination work has been done on the woods which are now full of dust containing tiny particles (2μm) of cesium carried on the wind. Radiation is 15 to 20 times higher than normal levels. Erosion and surface water have also washed contaminated sediment from the mountains down onto the plains where crops have been sown.


On March 13, 2011, the town of Futaba was evacuated, and more than seven years later, there are still radioactive leaks. Radiation exposure levels in homes are sometimes 20 times the maximum limit.


We had rice paddies and fruit trees, and used to drink the water from the spring.

I had warned the director of the power plant, pointing out that in the event of a tsunami, the emergency diesel generators would be vulnerable. He said that it would cost too much to provide better protection for them.

Masumi Kowata’s family had been living there for 300 years. She was the representative of local communities near the power plant. The first time she returned after the disaster, her home had been burgled, but only her documents on the company operating the plant, TEPCO, had disappeared. Her house is in an area classified as a “difficult-to-return zone.”


My life in Iwaki.

I was born in Iwaki, in Fukushima Prefecture, and used to live there with my parents and brother. Every spring, we would go to see the cherry blossom in a park that was so pretty it was often shown on TV: beautiful pathways lined with cherry blossom. It is called the “Night Forest.”

In summer we used to collect shells on the seashore; in fall we would pick mushrooms in the woods; and in winter we would make snowmen.

On the way back from school we would stop in a park and pick horsetail nettles; my mother would cook them, and they were delicious. We lived in a big house with a big garden and grew blueberries, shiitake mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. My school friends and I used to catch insects in the grass, and we made our own marbles out of clay from the soil.

– Y. K. (14 years old)

My life after the nuclear accident.

On March 11, 2011, that happy life came to an end. The Night Forest and the cherry trees are now in a “difficult-to-return zone.” Children can’t make marbles because the earth is highly radioactive.

But what was even worse for me, was the bullying at the school where I had to go after we were evacuated. I’d find insults scrawled on my drawings, and they called me “germ.”

It went on and on, so I decided that the best thing would be to disappear. I was about nine or ten, and it was July, the time of the Tanabata Star Festival when you make a wish, so my wish was to die.

Well, adults build nuclear power plants, and adults make money out of them, and they are responsible for the accident. But we children have to live in fear of being sick one day. We have to live surrounded by radioactive matter that was produced by the same adults.

– Y. K. (14 years old)


Decontamination has only been carried out on fields and the land within a 20-meter radius of homes. The work has produced millions of cubic meters of contaminated soil removed from the ground. Bags full of the soil are piled up in fields, gardens and on the roadside.

The most highly contaminated elements will form a temporary storage mountain 50 meters high and covering 16 square kilometers. The final storage site and disposal will be complete by 2045.

The government has changed the radiation limits so that soil with levels less than 8000 becquerels per kilogram can be used for road construction in Japan, while the International Atomic Energy Agency’s standard for radioactive waste that needs to be treated by special facilities is 100 becquerels per kilogram.


We won’t be coming back. Our heritage will be lost, but our souls are still in the city.

– Yasuharu Hashimoto

Yasuharu Hashimoto built his house in Futaba, as did his parents and grandparents. Yasuharu built his four years before the accident. TEPCO now wants to buy the property from him and raze the house as it is on the site chosen for the mountain of radioactive waste. His children, aged 12 and 14, have already forgotten what life was like in Futaba.

Radiation does not affect people who smile, but those who are worried. Anyone who smiles will not be affected. Smile!

– Dr. Yamashita, Fukushima Medical University (which receives funding from the nuclear industry)

Every day, 100 cubic meters of water has to be sprayed over the containment building, and it will take forty years to cool the fuel rods. The contaminated water is partially recycled, and the rest is stored on site, in a thousand giant tanks, some of them leaking, containing a million tonnes of tritium-contaminated water. TEPCO would like to release it into the ocean, even if it has to lie about the environmental impact.

Researchers recently tested water from a borehole 50 meters from the ocean and found 54,000 becquerels per liter for cesium-137, i.e. 600 times the level set for water to be released into the sea. Depending on the different radioactive elements, it will take from 30 to 300 years for radiation levels to return to normal.



North Pacific Ocean


Every year, 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the sea. Household waste, fishing nets, “mermaids’ tears” or microbeads used in industry, and, in particular, single-use plastic packaging that serves a purpose for only a fleeting moment and will then contaminate the oceans for centuries. Just one plastic bottle, when in contact with water and attacked by UV rays and bacteria, will break down into some 20,000 microplastic particles ranging in size from a millimeter to a few microns.

The particles blend in with phytoplankton and are ingested by marine animals. When polymers break down, the toxic compounds released (e.g. bisphenol A, phthalates, DDT and PCBs) are consumed by and contaminate marine species. In some areas, there is up to ten times more plastic than plankton.

Particles of plastic can be found everywhere, even in the Arctic, and enter the food chain. A single mussel or oyster can contain around one hundred of the plastic microbeads used, for example, in facial scrubs and toothpaste.

Since the invention of plastic, a total of 8.3 billion tons has been manufactured, and it has not broken down, it is still there. In the North Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California, is the largest of the world’s six masses of floating ocean plastic: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, covering an area of 3.43 million square kilometers, one-third the size of Europe, forming a continent of plastic, a deadly toxic soup. There, 2,500 kilometers from the nearest coast, are Band-Aids, toothbrushes, a garden hose, bits of plastic crates, and cigarette butts. But it is not a continent. It is far worse, as there is nothing substantial, just 1,800 billion plastic microbeads barely visible to the naked eye, and laden with persistent toxic substances such as PCBs.

It is difficult to find any spot on earth today without traces of plastic. It appears to be everywhere: in water courses, starting at the beginning of the food chain and going through to the human body. Endocrine disruptors, often found in plastics, have been reported to cause a decline in male fertility, reducing sperm counts by up to 75%.

Environments that have evolved to live with plastic are now recognized as a separate ecosystem which scientists have dubbed the “plastisphere.” Here is contamination that can never be removed.


 Samples of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch collected in filters by scientists on the “Tara Pacific” expedition:


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