Clini, who met local leaders in Taranto on Friday, promised cash to clean up Ilva. He also said health studies do not reflect emission cuts already made. "Clini is lying about this since the magistrate's report is based on studies concluded this year," said Angelo Bonelli, leader of the Green party in Italy. "We know that mothers in Taranto today have three times the allowed level of dioxins in their milk."
In a region known for baroque towns like Lecce and traditional Trullo cottages tucked into olive groves, Taranto is the exception. Its skyline is dominated by smoking chimneys and its old town is a half abandoned collection of bricked up and crumbling palazzi.
Farmers were put out of business when grazing was banned within 20km (12.4 miles) of Ilva and almost 3,000 livestock with excessive dioxin levels were slaughtered. Mussel cultivation, for which Taranto is renowned, is struggling after beds were moved away from the steelworks.
"There isn't a family in Tamburi without a sick or dead member thanks to Ilva," said Rosella Balestra, a local activist. "People ignored it for a long time but now, when I talk to them, tears often come. Slowly, a wall of self denial is coming down."
Despite initial suspicion among mothers, Balestra began warning children playing in the piazzas not to touch flower beds after she discovered the council had done little to publicize its ban on contact with the polluted soil.
Pollution is part of local life. Every day residents sweep their balconies clean of the red mineral dust blowing in from Ilva's mountainous deposits and the black soot from its chimneys, which regularly clog storm drains.
"The magistrates launched their inquiry here when politicians failed to do their duty, and now the politicians are attacking the magistrates for doing theirs," said Balestra.
According to Patrizio Mazza, a doctor, the dust is killing young and old. "I first noticed the increase when I treated a 10-year-old boy five years ago with throat cancer," he said. "It is no good reducing emissions now because any new emissions at all simply top up the saturated earth and water. The furnaces must be shut down."
A growing protest movement, which mounted a 2,000-strong march in Taranto on Friday, has found a champion in Cataldo Ranieri, a 42-year-old Ilva employee who initially backed management against the magistrates, blocking a road in protest in July. "A man came up to me that day and said, 'My wife needs to get through to do her chemotherapy.' That changed my life."
Mazza said rates of tumors among Ilva staff who were campaigning to keep the plant open was 10 times higher than the national average. "Workers there just wanted to think about their work, not illness," said Vincenzo Pignatelli, 60, who worked near the furnaces for 29 years and survived leukemia after retiring in 2002. "Four colleagues in my group of about 100 died of leukemia and I would see so many former colleagues during my trips to hospital it was like a works reunion."
Bonelli shrugged off the government's view that the local – and national – economy would suffer if Ilva closed its most polluting furnaces, saying: "Bilbao and Pittsburgh managed it thanks to investment, why not Taranto?"
In Tamburi, Francesco Mastrocinque watched as children kicked a football around on a dusty patch of earth, flouting the ban.
"The red mineral powder glitters in the gutters, but the black soot feels like fine sand when it gets into your mouth," he said. "Ilva have paid for improvements in the neighborhood, like putting fountains in the cemetery, but they didn't clean the tombstones, which are slowly turning black and red."
Intellpuke: You can read this article by Journalist Tom Kington, reporting from Taranto, Italy, for the Guardian, in context here: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/17/italy-ilva-steelworks-cancer-pollution