Fearing for their health, an Italian couple living in the "Triangle of Death" near Naples where the mafia has illegally dumped tonnes of toxic waste has requested asylum in Switzerland.
"I didn't have any other choice than to seek to leave, its my instinct to survive that has forced me to act," Sergio Sedia told AFP of the environmental asylum request.
Advertisement"The (Italian) government has not protected my right to health, and in this area people are dying of cancers caused by tonnes of chemical and toxic waste illegally dumped here for more than 20 years."
Sergio and his wife Giulia live in the town of Cimitile, in the heart of the area dubbed the "Triangle of Death" by the British medical journal The Lancet when it reported in 2004 on considerably higher cancer and deformity rates than for other parts of the Campania region around Naples.
In the heart of some of Italy's best farm land, the area delimited by the towns of Nola, Marigliano and Acerra has been used by the Cammora mafia to secretly dump thousands of tonnes of industrial waste since the 1980s, according to environmental groups.
The mafia chokehold over the region's landfills, and their opposition to new incinerators, has recently led to a garbage crisis in Naples with residents burning trash that has piled up in the streets.
"This area is nearly entirely agricultural, there are no factories, but has mortality rates for cancers linked to pollution higher than the national average. Here one doesn't die of a heart attack or an accident, but from tumors," said Sedia, 34, who works in the finance industry.
"What I eat and breathe every day makes me afraid because of the products -- the asbestos, the lead, the dioxins that are there in the air, the soil, the ground water," he told AFP.
In March, the region's environmental protection agency published data showing several parts of the town of Acerra contained levels of lead, dioxins and hydrocarbon products considerably higher than permitted levels.
Fearing also for the health of their unborn child "we decided to demand protection abroad and our choice fell on Switzerland," said Sedia, recognising that his request stood little chance of success.
"We want to save ourselves, and only another country can help us, because if waste is one enemy, the Italian state is another in continuing to deny there is a problem in this area."
A first asylum request, submitted to the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, was rejected "as they said there was no official proof (of contamination) and Italy is a state with the rule of law," said Sedia.
Instead of giving up Sedia filed an appeal with data from the World Health Organisation, statements from witnesses and media reports.
"The Italian authorities are trying to act as if the problem of contamination doesn't exist," he said.
"I am not very confident when I see the authorities test mozzarella (over dioxin poisoning) because it is a valuable product, but doesn't conduct tests on us citizens because we don't have any commercial value."
A mozzarella scare occurred earlier this year when samples of the cheese, made from buffalo milk, were found to have raised levels of the toxic compound dioxin. Buffalo farms in the Campania region were quarantined.
Singapore, Japan and South Korea banned Italian mozzarella sales as a precautionary measure.