chemical plant / Cogoleto / 1900 - 2003 / 2010
This infamous chromium plant came into the limelight in recent times being the epicentre of a vast, ongoing environmental disaster. The story begun in 1900, when local authorities licensed a newborn chemical factory to manufacture chromic acid. That was obtained through a rotary hearth furnace (installed in 1906) by treating Turkish chromite with sulphuric acid. In 1908 the plant was taken over by a Milanese entrepreneur, Luigi Stoppani, and further enlarged. Besides chromic acid a variety of derivates were produced, such as sodium dichromates and chromium sulphate. The process involved the transformation of chromium (III) in chromium (IV) - also know as chromium hexavalent, a strongly toxic compound - through an alkaline redox and leaching. In 1958 the factory was updated through the installation of a new, modern rotary heart furnace. Two more ones followed in the 1960s (Furnace 62 and Furnace 70), while the ancient one from 1906 was decommissioned as long as the older part of the site. During the 1970s an experimental production of menadione (also know as vitamin K3) was developed.
Environmental problems emerged in the early 1980s when the Port Authority allowed the factory to dump its waste muds (40.000-50.000 m3/y, containing hexavalent chromium) directly into the sea, instead of leaving them just on the seashore. The operation was interrupted in 1986 and muds begun to be poured into the Lerone river, which runs beside the plant. In early 1990s the situation was dramatic, with public authorities on a war footing and the company threatening with closure and dismissals. A first agreement was signed in 1994: Stoppani received 7 billions of Italian Liras of EU fundings (ENVIREG Program) to proceed with remediation. This did not happened and the management of the company was charged with environmental disaster. In 2001, finally, the site (comprising the factory and surroundings) was put under temporary receivership by the national environmental department, aiming to (re)start the remediation process - still in progress today. Between 2002 and 2003 the factory ceased the production of chromium sulphate and was closed definitively.
NoStop / website of the local Committee for the reconversion of Stoppani site