English translation

Oak Forest: a place of memory

The “Bosco delle Querce” or “Oak Forest” is situated between the towns of Seveso and Meda. The forest covers an area of 43 acres, 35 belonging to the Council of Seveso, 8 to the Council of Meda. It is located at 210 meters above the sea level in the alluvial valley of the river Seveso. The Certesa creek runs through it, coming from the west and flowing into the river Seveso. The Forest was created in 1983. Works actually began in 1984 and lasted two years. Bosco delle Querce covers an area (A Zone) which was polluted after a toxic “cloud”, carrying a miscellanea of toxic particles, including one known as dioxin (2,3,7,8 TCDD), came out of the Icmesa chemical plant, on the 10th of July, 1976.
The area was entirely reclaimed by demolishing existing buildings and removing the dirt surface a few inches into the ground. This decision was taken after controversial debate.
The decision to create a forest after the removal of the ground surface, came as the result of popular movements that rose in Seveso in the aftermath of the accident. It was also upheld by the qualified and wise opinion of professor Gian Antonio Lanzani, an expert in bio-chemistry, and a resident at the time.
Today the Forest is a symbolic place: it portrays the struggle against pollution, the toil to recover a seriously compromised environment and the commitment to keep the memory of the disaster alive. It is a token of the ability to react with determination, solidarity and sense of responsibility to an environmental damage caused by superficiality and indifference.
The Forest is a living place, with a new story to tell. Along its manicured paths you will find a narration, unwinding memories of a disaster that deeply affected the environment as much as the lives of the men and women living in the area at the time. The place has been restored thanks to the deep affection of the people for their land, local traditions and life style.

Icmesa: a chemical factory on the territory

On November 29th, 1945 a company named Icmesa – Industrie Chimiche Meda Società Azionaria – asked the Civil Engineering Authority in Milan, the permission to build a new facility in Meda, to produce pharmaceutical products.
Icmesa was a medium size company operating in the chemical field. It belonged to the swiss company L. Givaudan and, since 1963, to the Hoffman – La Roche Group.
In 1969
the plant started the production of 2,4,5 triclorophenol, an intermediate product used mainly to make an acid, the by-products of which were used as weedkillers and to make an anti-bacterical drug, esaclorophene.
The presence of trichlorophenol in the factory´s production process became known after July 10th 1976, when the toxic cloud had escaped from the plant.
However, the entire manufacturing process of the plant was already at high risk since 1947, when it started off.
In 1949, a Council meeting in Seveso addressed the harmfulness of highly noxious waste waters being discharged by Icmesa into the Certesa creek. It was reported that the waters spread “nauseating and unbearable odours in the atmosphere” and that they made the air “absolutely unbreathable because of the exhalations coming from the waste waters flowing from the plant”.
For years, alarming reports about the hazards being brought by Icmesa, were filed by the population and the Health Authority, but they were never taken into any kind of consideration.
On July 18th 1976 Icmesa was finally shut down by the Mayor of the town of Meda, Fabrizio Malgrati.
At the time 16 women and 139 men were working in the plant.
Today the only remains are the fencing walls, you can see them in via Icmesa in Meda. In this area, a sport center has recently been built.

It was a warm Saturday in July…

On Saturday July 10th, 1976, at 5.00 a.m, the production process of the trichlorophenol was interrupted in the department “B” of Icmesa, unusually toward the end of the last shift before the weekend. At 12.37 an uncontrolled increase of the temperature inside reactor A 101 caused an excess of pressure. One of the safety valves gave in, allowing the emission of a toxic cloud composed by about 400 kg of reaction and reactive gaseous products. The cloud was mainly composed of trichlorophenol and caustic soda, and also included a percentage of dioxin (2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin).
The cloud floated south-southeast-bound, blown by the wind and eventually deposited on the surface, covering an area of estimated 1.810 hectares, located in the Councils of Meda, Seveso, Cesano Maderno and Desio.
On Thursday the 15th of July, five days after the accident, as a consequence of the death of a lot of animals and rashes on the skin of children coming from the polluted area, the Mayors of the Councils of Seveso, Francesco Rocca, and of Meda, Fabrizio Malgrati, issued the first ordinances, in the quest to protect the population´s health.
After days of distressful uncertainty about the gravity of the situation, also due to the fact that Icmesa had not disclosed the accident, on Saturday the 24th of July 1976, the mayors ordered the evacuation of most of the polluted area, to be completed by the following Monday. The area was fenced and access forbidden. It was ranked as “A Zone” and it constitutes today, the area of Bosco delle Querce. In the following days there was also the rating of a less polluted area as “B Zone”, and of an “R Zone” defined as an area with the presence of less than 5 micrograms of pollutant by square meter, or pollution-free, were sanitary rules were not mandatory, but just recommended. Later, the “A Zone” was isolated with a metallic net 4 meters high and covered with yellow panels to prevent the wasteful action of the wind and the access of animals. Barbed wire was also placed along the perimeter.

The evacuation

Between July 26th and the middle of August 1976, 676 inhabitants of the “A Zone” of Seveso and 60 of Meda were evacuated. 204 families were accommodated in hotels in Assago and Cormano. Inhabitants of “B” and “R” Zones were subjected to precautionary measures: they were told not to eat local farming and livestock products; children and pregnant women were sent away during the day.
Other forms of precautions were also indicated to the residents of the “R” and “B” areas, such as to intensify personal hygene, to stop breeding animals and growing vegetables and to avoid pregnancy.
A column appeared on the “Corriere della Sera” on July 26th 1976: “since yesterday morning two hundred people are behind the barbed wire placed by the soldiers of the 3rd artillery around the San Pietro neighbourhood. The military convoy arrived at the town hall in Seveso at eight thirty in the morning. […] under a very heavy rain the men staked out the area, then began to lay out the double barbed wire entanglement, finally placed blockades to bar access to the neighbourhood.”
“It´s sad to have to leave everything – an inhabitant of the A Zone said- here we have built our homes working on sundays and holidays. This village was built by our families and we do not know if and when we will return”.
According to the pollution level, the “A Zone” was divided in seven sub-areas (A1/A7). The inhabitants of the A6/A7 Zones, who made up for 67% of the evacuated population, were able to return to their homes at the end of 1977.
All the buildings in the A1/A5 Zones were demolished and more than 200 people never returned to their homes. Most of these people decided to remain in Seveso, rebuilding their houses in other areas of town, also helped by refunds received as a compensation for the damage.

Health control

In order to carry out the working plans linked to the reclaiming of the polluted area, in January 1977 the Lombardy Council founded the Special Office for Seveso that worked, starting from July 1977, guided by attorney Antonio Spallino and, since 1979, by senator Luigi Noé.
Among the programs carried out and coordinated by the Special Office, health was of fundamental importance. Sanitary authorities activated a plan for the health control of the people involved or at risk, for epidemical watch over of the inhabitants and for lab tests on the effects of the dioxin. A plan of periodical check-ups for the population started, involving about 42.000 people living in the four councils which had been most affected by the deposit of the toxic cloud (Seveso, Meda, Cesano Maderno and Desio). In particular they studied the short-terms and middle terms acute effects concerning: skin (cloracne, on more than 600 cases), reproduction (miscarriage), congenital malformations, chromosomal alterations, liver, lipidic metabolism, peripheral nervous system, immune system.
Also the workers in charge of the reclaiming process were submitted to tests and studies. At last studies on middle and long terms effects started: i.e. mortality and cancers incidence.
The presence of dioxin in the blood of the most exposed people received analytic confirmation starting from 1987, thanks to a measuring technique of dioxin concentration in the blood, discovered by American researchers.
This was possible, 11 years later, because all the blood samples taken in 1976 had
been preserved frozen at the Desio Hospital.The results of these analysis confirmed the high level of exposure of the inhabitants, mainly in the “A Zone”, with very high concentrations of TCDD in some cases.

A lively community

The accident of July 10th, 1976 disrupted thousands of people´s lives. “Seveso” became a sadly famous name. When travelling in Italy and abroad, citizens of Seveso were suspiciously looked at and the local products were rejected, as if they could spread the “terrible” dioxin elsewhere. A lot of women had to consider abortion, with no certainties about the real dangers dioxin could bring on unborn children. A dramatic decision to take, worsened by the fact that abortion in Italy became legal only in 1978, and the matter at the time was highly controversial. The Community, however, did not break up. Men and women formed committees, groups and associations. An important role was played by the Religious Communities, the meeting groups (we remember the slogan “Seveso life goes on”), the numerous voluntary initiatives, the Technical Scientific Popular Committee.
Ideological implications linked to the event and the decisions to be taken subsequently, reinforced the contrast. The different points of view that sprang up from committees, groups and single citizens, gave way to a variety of experiences in environmental and health education, in information, in scientific research and in social animation. They allowed, contrasts notwithstanding, to maintain the community alive and cohesive in facing dramatic facts and handling the heavy uncertainty caused by a situation never occurred before.
Thousands of citizens opposed the decision of the Lombardy Council to build an incinerator in Seveso, to eliminate the polluted material. It was thanks to popular pressure that the decision to build the incenerator was luckily – and wisely – dropped.
The women and the men of Seveso were able to react positively to the “drama of the unknown” caused by the accident of July 10th 1976 and for this reason all the story represents, today, a “hymn to life”.

A hill, custodian of contaminated waste and memories

On June the 2nd, 1977 the Regional Council of Lombardy approved 5 operating projects to reclaim the polluted territory. The Special Office for Seveso was put in
charge of it.
Since it was decided not to build an incinerator to eliminate the polluted material, between 1981 and 1984, two waterproof basins were built to contain the contaminated material.
You can see the hill in the Bosco delle Querce, it is the so-called basin of Seveso, one of the two built to contain and to put the polluted material in a safety place. The other basin is located in Meda, in the northern unfenced area of the Park.
The capacity of the Seveso basin is 200.000 cubic meters, while 80.000 cubic meters is that of the one in Meda.
A system of four subsequent barriers was put around the contaminated area in order to keep the polluted material safely separated from the external environment. The basins are provided with control systems that are able to detect seepage, guaranteeing the protection of the place.
Most of the polluted material is the surface soil that was removed from the “A Zone”, 46 centimeters into the ground.
The Seveso basin contains rubble from the demolition of buildings, furniture, household goods and personal belongings, dead animals (more than 80.000 animals died or were killed after the accident) and part of the equipment used for the reclamation.
The earth that today covers the superficial layer of the forest comes from other areas of Lombardy. Soil, but not just that.
In the basins there lay the memories of the people who were compelled to leave everything on July the 26th 1976 and the days following.

The Fondazione Lombardia per l’Ambiente

When the Special Office was closed in 1986, the documentation collected was moved to the Lombardy Regional Authority. In the same year, in order not to disperse all the knowledge and the experience acquired, the Fondazione Lombardia per l´Ambiente was established. Its task was to promote studies, researches and activities envisaged to spread information in the environmental field.
Fondazione Lombardia per l´Ambiente started working only in 1991, when it was endowed with 50 billion lira (26 million euro) as a starting asset. They immediately got in touch with scientific institutions and with local Authorities.
In addition to the researches on the area of Seveso, a lot of other projects in several environmental subjects were activated: waste material, the protection of the ecosystem of Lombardy, air pollution, water damage. In 1999 the Sustainable development Section and the A21L (Local Agenda 21) were brought to life: a form of cooperation between the towns of Cesano Maderno, Desio, Meda and Seveso to support the concept of sustainable development contained in the Agenda 21.
In July 10th 2001, 25th anniversary of the disaster, a first “technical” report was issued on the environmental conditions of the area. A simplified version was made in 2002 for popularization.
The Foundation also started environmental training programs, assigning three-year long scholarships, that allowed more than eighty young men to be trained in qualified research centers in Italy and abroad.
Since 1995 up to now, the Fondazione Lombardia per l´Ambiente put under way several research programs that allowed the regular and continuous testing of dioxin in the soil, in the air, in the fauna and in the food products, as well as the monitoring of the local population´s health. A considerable impulse has been given to the publishing activity, in order to inform about the results of the researches. It includes the publication of manuals, monographs and investigations, all of which are available at the Town Library of Seveso and at the Foundation Centre.

Seveso, a symbol of environmental protection

The experience of Seveso started a new phase in policy-making which implies control by rule of law of the pollution sources, as to ensure the safety of citizens. In fact, two European directives concerning control of industrial risks are called “Seveso Directives”.
Seveso became a worldwide symbol of environmental protection.
Since 1976 living in Seveso meant a choice of deeper awareness of environmental values. This choice made the population conscious of the need to reclaim the polluted areas and to encrease the value of land of better quality. Environmental and social opportunities prove this: areas as Fosso del Ronchetto, an abandoned green area, recovered and treated by the environmentalists from Seveso, the Groane Park, “born” in 1976, the Bosco del Biulè, the historical villas of Seveso.
In 2000 the Councils of Seveso, Meda, Cesano Maderno and Desio started the process of Agenda 21 Locale creating the Forum and the Agency of the Councils for sustainable development.
In 2001 Legambiente with Fondazione Lombardia per l´Ambiente and the Council of Seveso began the historical scientific research project called “The Bridge of Memory”, in
order to rebuild the Story of the disaster of July 10th 1976, by collecting all documentation produced by the spontaneous committees born in that period.
In 2003 the Foundation Corriere della Sera also took part in the project making a DVD containing all the articles published by the Corriere della Sera and by the other daily RCS papers about the event from July 1976 to July 2003.
The community has not broken up. The Bridge of Memory fulfils the desire to hand down this Story, connecting the present and the past: the reclamation was not obtained only by bulldozers but above all, by a community that reacted to the damage and that still today lives in its land finally recovered.
This is why today Seveso is a symbolic place for environmental protection.

Reflections 27 years after the accident

27 years later, a survey was conducted to find out which legacy the events of July10th 1976 had left with the people of Seveso: “What is in your opinion, the most important thing that the ICMESA accident should teach the next generation?” This is how they answered
We need more effective policies for the care of the land and of the people living there
It´s important never to forget the tragic events, as a warning for the future, but also to turn those facts into an opportunity for all of us.
Multinationals are profit-oriented; they have no interest in people´s lives and in keeping the environment healthy.
Environmental protection is an asset for generations to come: it should be a commitment for every individual and for local and national government.
Economic growth must be sustainable.
Prevention is better than treatment.
The ability of a community to react in front of an exceptional and unprecedented event, consolidates the sense of belonging.
A united community can face and overcome insurmountable difficulties.
Ethical economic choices and social cohesiveness are basic values for society.

The Park as it is today

Since the end of 1986 the care of the Park was entrusted to the Azienda Regionale delle Foreste (ARF). At first they planted 5.000 trees and 6.000 shrubs. The trees were native oaks, maples, hornbeams, forest pines, lime trees, willows, birches, black and white poplars, ash tree, ornielli. The shrubs were hawthorn, broom, viburnum, juniper, dog rose and other shrubs.
In all these years the Forest has been flourishing. Thanks to further interventions carried out by the Azienda Regionale delle Foreste, by the end of 1998 the Park included 21.753 trees and 23.898 shrubs, a four-fold increase compared to the initial installation inherited from the Special Office for Seveso.
In 1985, together with the intense activities of planting, the chalet of Bosco delle Querce was built, functioning as a deposit of tools and machinery and as a service and welcome office. A water collecting basin for the irrigation of new plants was built nearby.
To guarantee a safer protection of the Forest, since January 1987 a part of the chalet has become the centre of Club Alpino Italiano, Seveso branch. The members of the CAI branch, accepted the challenge of taking over one of the assets of the Park, and understood the importance of contributing to restore the Forestal area. Soon some CAI activities started to take place; they were mainly centered on environmental awareness.
The Forest includes a freely visitable area and a naturalistic fenced area, the access of which is reserved to research activity. In the wildest areas of the Park there are wild rabbits, foxes, frogs, tritons, water snakes; the ponds are populated also by the Ardea Cinerea.
Since 2001 the Forest belongs to the Lombardy Council. Since 2003 the Council of Seveso has become managing Authority of the Forest.
The Council of Seveso, together with local associations, has promoted several initiatives in order to increase the value and the public use of the Oaks Forest. In recent years, Legambiente, Olduvai Onlus and the Italian Alpine Club have carried out educational activities in the Park. There are many initiatives that have become a hallmark of the Park such as: cross-country provincial championship organized by the Association “In Robore Virtus”; the National Dog Show organized by the Huntsmen Association of Seveso; local cross-country races organized by the Seveso Marathon Club, and the “Trofeo Topolino”, a fishing contest for children, organized by the Association “Pesca Sportiva” of Seveso. Last but not least, is the annual May Fair, organized by the Comitato Maggio Sampietrino, which includes cultural events of all sorts.
The Park is open to the public every Sunday all year round and on Saturdays from May to September. Access is also provided on weekdays on specific requests made usually by local schools. Due to its origin, the Park is often the subject of scientific studies; this naturalistic area is of particular interest as it is completely self-contained and human intervention has been minimal.
Park maintenance and care are entrusted to the Regional Agricultural Service – ERSAF. ERSAF, originally ARF – Azienda Regionale Foreste – has carried out many programs for the development of this particular ecosystem, and has completed the reforestation of the area and the landscaping.

An environmental asset

The landscape
The Oak Forest of Seveso and Meda is an area of antropic origin. The trees planted there are the same as those to be found in other local woods and forests: mainly Oaks (Quercus robur), Pines (Pinus sylvestris), Birches (Betula spp), Hornbeams (Carpinus betulus), Alders (Alnus glutinosa) and White Willows (Salix alba).
Geographically it is located within an area that stretches north of the Greater Milan metropolitan area towards the pre-Alpine lake district. The landscape features vast slopes of grass and trees with patches of shrubs on the hills surrounding Seveso and Meda. A naturally grown forest with a rich undergrowth completes the park whose naturalistic vocation only allows for limited access.
After the reclamation of the land was completed in 1984, only one big Poplar tree was to be found in what today constitutes the Oak Forest; by the end of 1988, there were over 45,000 trees and bushes in the Park.
Presently the Oak Forest is mainly composed of Oak trees and other kinds of broad-leaved specimens typical of the plain of the river Po, together with a great variety of bushes, such as Privet (Ligustrus vulgare), Dogrose (Rosa canina), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) , Juniper (Juniperus communis), Wayfaring-tree (Viburnum lantana), Holly (Ilex aquifolium), Elder (Sambucus nigra) and Hazel (Corylus avellana).
Let´s take a walk in the Park
The park was designed to be a gracious mix of forest and meadows, tall trees and shrubs. Both the forest and the recreational areas portray a well balanced ecosystem. As you stroll amid Oak trees, Hornbeams and Birches, you will be attracted by the drumming sound of a red Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major) and the singing tones of a Titmouse (Parus major), or a Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) or a Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Green Woodpeckers (Picus viridis) and Wrynecks (Jjnx torquilla). sometimes appear too, the latter only in the summer. A few species of birds of prey also visit the forest: Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) and Buzzards (Buteo buteo) during the day and Tawny Owls (Strix aluco) and Llittle Owls (Athene noctua) at night. In some areas where the thick vegetation is accessible, you may encounter Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus). After a rainfall, or toward twilight, you may also see tree-frogs (Hyla arborea), small amphibians that typically live in a forest environment. Small red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) – skilful predators of large insects – and common Whitethroats (Sylvia communis) live close to the shrubs. Iin the meadows and grassy areas, dandelion (Taraxacus officinale) and vervain (Verbena officinalis), and other plants with colourful flowers such as mallow (Malva sylvestris) and clover (Trifolium pratense), attract beautiful butterflies, some in strikingly vivid colours and large in size, such as the different varieties of swallowtail (Papilio machaon). If you´re walking close to the edge of a grassy patch you may encounter a wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) or a windhover (Falco tinnuculus) hunting for large insects. In the areas where brambles (Rubus fruticosus) and shrubs are most common, small reptiles find their habitat: wall lizards (Podarcis muralis) and grass snakes (çoluber viridiflavus), coloured in shades of yellow and green, rather large, but absolutely harmless.
Prevailing species in the naturalistic area are Oaks, Maple trees (Acer campestre) and Red Oaks (Quercus rubra) which is an exotic species with beautiful foliage in Autumn. Also, near the shallow waters of the ponds, grow some rare and protected species, such as the Cattail (Typha latifolia).
The damp parts of the park provide a habitat rich in wildlife: during the Spring, water-hens (Gallinula chloropus) come nesting; in the Winter, grey herons (Ardea cinerea) and bald-coots (Fulica Atra) can be observed. Living in the ponds are also two more species of amphibians, besides the tree-frogs; the green frog (Rana esculenta) and the emeraldine toad (Bufo viridis).

Useful information

Address: the main entrance to the Oak Forest is on via Ada Negri n. 2, Seveso
Directions:

carIf you´re travelling by car:
Seveso is located 22 Km north of Milan. Take the Superstrada Milano-Meda, exit n. 12 (Meda)

treno_1If you´re travelling by train:
Take the FNM Milano-Asso railway leaving from Milano Cadorna or Passante Station. Oak Forest is only 500 meters from the Seveso Railway Station.

Train schedules are available at www.trenord.it.

Opening hours:

May-September Saturdays
Sundays
9:00am- 9:00pm
9:00am- 9:00pm
October-November Sundays 9:00am- 7:00pm
December-February Sundays 9:00am- 5:00pm
March-April Sundays 9:00am-7:00pm

 

Just a few basic rules to go by while visiting the Park:
As a visitor to a very special place, you are asked to be respectful towards all living creatures you encounter so we ask you NOT to:
• listen to loud music
• light fires
• camp out
• play team games
• ride bicycles off the paths
• bicycle race
• trample on flowerbeds, bushes and plants
• bring in dogs without lead and muzzle and without picking up their waste
• disturb, capture or kill animals
• release wild animals or abandon pets
• feed the wildlife

 

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Bosco Delle Querce

Via Ada Negri, snc - 20822 Seveso
Info Ufficio Ecologia
Tel 0362.517208
Email info@boscodellequerce.it

Orari apertura

9 gennaio - 28 febbraio
Il parco è aperto dagli ingressi di via Ada Negri e Viale Redipuglia dal lunedì al venerdì dalle 7.00 alle 12.30, il sabato e la domenica dalle 7.00 alle 19.00. L'accesso di via Senofonte è aperto esclusivamente il sabato e la domenica dalle 9.00 alle 19.00.

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