by Marzia De Giuli
MILAN, April 22 (Xinhua) -- An oil leakage near Genoa in northern Italy has caused serious environmental damage in the region, killing birds and fish and prompting a race against time to stop the oil's flow towards the sea.
The accident happened after an underground oil pipeline connected to a refinery broke and polluted two creeks, according to a statement by Iplom, a company headquartered north of Genoa in Liguria region which runs the refinery.
The statement said that the leakage occurred during the transfer of crude oil from a ship in a Genoa port on Sunday night, and that emergency measures were immediately enacted.
The Iplom facilities were seized and an investigation was opened to ascertain possible responsibilities, Rossella D'Acqui, scientific director of ARPAL, the regional environmental protection agency which is conducting the inquiry, told Xinhua on Friday.
"The first days the interventions carried out by Iplom were insufficient, but in the latest hours we have observed more effective action, and we are seeing the first results," D'Acqui said. The damage to the creeks was "serious," she stressed, and a variety of organisms - fish, frogs and insects - which used to inhabit the waters were immediately killed by the oil.
Meanwhile spots of oil have been reported on a seashore of the region, which is also a renowned touristic destination. "We are trying to avoid that the oil spots pollute the sea, which besides causing an environmental disaster would also hurt the local economy. We are making all possible efforts to stop the flows," D'Acqui added.
Animal organizations said they came to the aid of dozens of ducks, geese and herons completely covered in oil, many of which were unable to survive the deadly emissions.
D'Acqui explained to Xinhua that the company's refinery had been regularly checked, and ARPAL had also carried out control activities, but pipelines in Italy are under a regulation which envisages less checks compared to refineries. This accident will hopefully lead to reflection on stricter controls, she said.
"What happened is very serious, the oil is flowing towards the sea. These pipelines are around 60 years old, and investigators will have to ascertain responsibilities," commented Santo Grammatico, the Liguria region president of Italian environmental group Legambiente. "We believe that if maintenance had been adequate, the damage could have been avoided. Prevention is fundamental, these are facilities at high risk of accident," he said.
Grammatico said the leakage in a few minutes caused difficulty in breathing, sore throat and burning in the eyes to those who live or happened to be there. "Two residents have been hospitalized. The local health agencies say the situation is under control, but when I went to check the place I also was hit by headache and nausea," he told Xinhua.
Friday was the Earth Day, which this year coincided with the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change that took place at the UN headquarters in New York.
"Today's signing of the Paris agreement highlights a new awareness of governments and also of citizens that the environmental issue is about all of us. However, environmental disasters continue to happen across the world," Earth Day Italy president Pierluigi Sassi told Xinhua.
Sassi called on transforming awareness into actions and lifestyles, which can be done only starting from environmental education in schools. "This year we have dedicated the Earth Day to young generations. They are the ones who can look at the mistakes made by their parents and decide that all of these environmental disasters shall never happen again," he said.