Land of Fires: Evaluation of heavy metal blood-levels in populations exposed to toxic waste in southern Italy

The truth of the Veritas study

Toxic environmental agents, to which anyone is involuntarily exposed, represent non-negligible risk for human health and, therefore, environmental contamination has become a theme of primary importance worldwide. In Italy, a dramatic example of this situation is represented by the areas of Caserta and Naples, in the Campania region. Illegal dumping and burning of waste in this region has caused immense environmental damage which seems to have severely affected the local population’s health, and so these areas are called “Land of Fires.”.

A team of researchers coordinated by Professor Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., the Italian director of the Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) at Temple University in Philadelphia, has published the study “Blood screening for heavy metals and organic pollutants in cancer patients exposed to toxic waste in southern Italy: a pilot study,” in the international Journal of Cellular Physiology. The study analyzed 95 cancer patients with different cancer types residing in several municipalities of the “Land of Fires,” and in 27 healthy individuals

“In Italy, in the Campania region, the environmental situation is critical,” says Giordano, “so I agreed to coordinate the “Veritas” project, which aimed to perform a blood screening for carcinogenic heavy metals in a cohort of cancer patients residing in Italy.”

Results confirmed that the overall concentration of heavy metals in blood samples of individuals from Pianura, Giugliano, Qualiano and Castel Volturno largely exceeded that of the other localities included in this study.

“At present, biomonitoring screening is still a very difficult goal to realize,” explains Dr. Luigi Costanzo, co-author of the study. “Often, the associations, committees and local communities work to preserve the health of the local population. This screening was precisely supported and funded by these associations.”

“In particular, we observed that patients with different cancer types from the area of Giugliano had higher blood levels of heavy metals than healthy controls,” says Dr. Iris Maria Forte, of INT Pascale Foundation CROM of Mercogliano, and first author of the study.

“Despite the limitations of this exploratory study, including the small sample size for some municipalities, our preliminary observations confirm previous studies,” explains Prof. Enrico Bucci of the Sbarro Institute in Philadelphia. “In the Campania region, in several municipalities, the blood concentration of toxic metals in cancer patients is higher than the permitted levels. The relationships between tumor development and exposure to these metals is known, so our data encourage further research investigating the possible association between exposure to toxic waste and increased risk of cancer development in the “Land of Fires.”

“These studies are crucial to promote interventions aimed at improving health conditions in these areas,” concludes Prof. Giordano.

Newswise Release      PubMed Abstract      Journal Article

About the Sbarro Health Research Organization

The Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) is non-profit charity committed to funding excellence in basic genetic research to cure and diagnose cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other chronic illnesses and to foster the training of young doctors in a spirit of professionalism and humanism. To learn more about the SHRO please visit www.shro.org