BRUSSELS (Reuters) - In its highest ever fine on an EU state, the European Court of Justice ordered Italy on Tuesday to pay 40 million euros ($49.7 million) for failing to tackle the dumping of illegal waste.
The Luxembourg-based court said it would impose further penalties of 42.8 million euros for every six months Italy failed to clean up hundreds of waste dumps, including many identified as containing dangerous toxic material.
The ruling underlines the failure of successive Italian governments to deal with an environmental scandal blamed for abnormal levels of cancer and other diseases in parts of the Campania region around the southern city of Naples.
It followed last month's announcement that the court had rejected an Italian appeal against a 2007 court ruling which ordered a full cleanup of illegal landfills and waste disposal sites.
Fed by a mix of inefficiency, shady business interests and organized crime, illegal waste dumps, containing anything from household rubbish to highly toxic industrial effluent, have grown up in every region in Italy.
But Campania, home of the notorious Camorra mafia, has long been seen as the center of the crisis, becoming a potent symbol of Italian decline. The so-called "fire country" around Naples is dotted with malodorous dumps and illegal burn-offs that regularly send plumes of black smoke into the sky.
The problem has persisted despite promises to build new incinerators and organic waste treatment sites and a succession of emergency measures, including shipping waste from Naples to other parts of Italy or foreign countries like Germany or Spain.
The Court of Justice, which interprets European Union law across the 28 member states, noted in its ruling that simply closing an illegal dump and covering waste with earth was not sufficient to meet EU environmental rules.
It said that not only had Italy failed to ensure the safe disposal of waste, it had not even provided a full account of the quantities and nature of the toxic waste dumped in many illegal landfills.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio, writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mark Trevelyan