Mafia dump waste
Illegal waste dumps and chronic problems over waste disposal are a major issue in the Naples areaReuters

The Italian government is to send in the army to fight the illegal dumping of toxic waste by the mafia in the southern Campania region.

Defence undersecretary Gioacchino Alfano said the government has given the green light to deploy the military in an area between Naples and Caserta known as 'the triangle of death'.

Soldiers are "to deal with, in the most efficient manner, the phenomenon of the environment mafia," Alfano said. A government decree is expected to be approved by parliament in the next few days.

The local mafia, known as Camorra, has long been accused of fraudulently securing lucrative waste disposal contracts, and then dumping pollutants illegally in the countryside.

It is believed that 10 million tonnes of industrial waste have been dumped in the region over the past 20 years, with nearly 440 businesses in northern and central Italy and other European countries implicated.

Over the last two decades, doctors have reported a huge rise in cancer cases in the towns around Naples, with a 40% increase in the number of tumours found in women and a 47% increase in men.

Police have been digging with excavators in the area amid fears that underground water supplies might also have been contaminated.

Due to chronic problems over waste disposal, the region is often shrouded in toxic fumes from chemicals and other waste being illegally burned, giving rise to the area's nickname of 'land of fires'.

In a recently declassified document from 1997, Camorra chief Francesco Schiavone warned authorities: "The inhabitants are all at risk of dying from cancer within 20 years.

"In towns like Casapesenna, Casal di Principe, Castel Volturno, and so on, they have, perhaps, 20 years to live. In fact I don't think anyone will survive."

He described how nuclear waste from Germany had been covered over by earth in shallow landfills near residential areas.

The dumping operation was reportedly exposed when, overcome by guilt at the environmental devastation caused by the Camorra, Schiavone's cousin turned police informer.