Rome blanketed in smoke after huge fire breaks out at disposal plant amid waste crisis

Arson suspected as blaze puts plant out of operation indefinitely

Tom Embury-Dennis
Wednesday 12 December 2018 02:04
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Fire breaks out at Rome waste disposal plant

Rome has been blanketed in smoke following a huge fire at a disposal plant, adding to the Eternal City's waste crisis and forcing desperate authorities to find alternative facilities to treat the capital's rubbish.

Video posted online from a helicopter by the country's fire service showed fumes spewing out of the plant on Tuesday morning.

The Salaria plant has been the subject of protests for years by residents complaining of putrid smells and demanding its closure.

Arson was suspected as the blaze put the plant out of operation indefinitely. It also sparked shorter-term health concerns given the huge cloud of smoke that covered the city.

While no health emergency was declared, Rome authorities urged residents to close their windows and stay indoors. Officials also recommended Romans avoid eating produce cultivated near the plant, suggesting fears of toxic residue settling in the northern part of the city.

Authorities are trying to monitor the smoke cloud and to find an alternative plant for regular waste treatment and to deal with the Christmas period, when rubbish collection spikes.

The Salaria facility treats about 800 tons of garbage a day - between 20 and 25 per cent of the city total, news reports said.

Rome's garbage collection and disposal system were notoriously insufficient even before the plant went out of service, and officials acknowledged the blaze had turned a festering problem into an emergency.

Mayor Virginia Raggi appealed for local authorities in Lazio and other regions to lend a hand and open their depots to Rome's waste for the foreseeable future.

"All institutions are working to facilitate a solution," she said at a news conference that was interrupted by hecklers.

Environment minister Sergio Costa said health authorities have determined there is no immediate health emergency due to the smoke, but the situation is being monitored.

He suggested foul play, noting in recent days structural work had begun to improve the plant's functioning and capacity.

"It's perplexing that precisely at the moment that the problem was being dealt with ... a fire breaks out," he said.

Additional reporting by PA

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