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International Alexander Langer Prize in memory of Gabriele Bortolozzo
The Scientific and Guarantee Committee of the Alexander Langer Foundation, composed of Renzo Imbeni (President), Gianni Tamino (Vice-President), Anna Bravo (spokesperson), Ursula Apitzsch, Patrizia Failli, Annamaria Gentili, Liliana Cori, Pinuccia Montanari, Margit Pieber, Alessandra Zendron, has decided to award the International Alexander Langer Prize 2003, a sum of 10.000 Euros, the Association named after Gabriele Bortolozzo, in memory of him.
Hardly can a lonelier and more pioneer struggle be imagined than the one initiated in the 70s by Gabriele Bortolozzo, worker at the Marghera Petrochemical near Venezia, against the use of chloride vinyl monomer (CVM). At that time the local Trade Union was dealing with security of the workplace, environmental issues were marginal, local bodies monitoring toxic substances and legal authorities were deaf to the issue of CVM. Little is known and no efforts were made to gather information on this topic. This resulted in 260 victims (157 deaths and 103 sick people) and to the devastating poisoning of the Lagoon.
In 1973, soon after the WHO recognized the carcinogenic effects of CVM, Gabriele Bortolozzo started a strenuous battle against the Petrochemical. He refused to be examined in the Petrochemical infirmary as he mistrusted their diagnosis. He protested because workers were not medically treated. He kept filing petitions and complaints on the level of toxicity in departments and on environmental poisoning. He committed himself in an awareness campaign against the discharge of toxic waste in the Lagoon.
Bortolozzo was the first worker in Italy to declare himself a conscientious objector to noxious methods of production and the first who openly refused to work in departments where CVM was used. He was the first to raise the issue of the disposal and concealing of toxic waste abroad.
In the meantime, Gabriele Bortolozzo carried out wide-ranging investigations on CVM victims. He started with his colleagues and gradually broadened the scope of his inquiry. He used his acquaintance with the production cycles to collect lists of names and medical records. He talked to sick workers and to widows and, step by step, found out and kept track of all cases. Investigations took place alongside with research on technical data. He gathered all available information from Montedison, WHO and chemical industries abroad and compared results often adding to them. He thus became the first to have a thorough knowledge of the toxicity of CVM more than doctors and judges. The company responded with a series of abuses leading to his isolation. He was supported by the Environmental Committee of the company but the Trade Union did not stand on his side.
In the 90s Bortolozzo met with greater support. More attention was devoted to the environment and, consequently, on his reports on pollution. He was invited to meetings and to give his testimony in schools, something to which he attached the greatest importance. He co-operated with the Association Medicina Democratica and in 1994 issued a report on its journal dealing with deaths and illnesses within the Petrochemical linked with CVM. In the same year he handed a petition to Felice Casson, the Public Prosecutor of Venice. This petition laid the basis for the forthcoming inquiry and trial against Montedison and Enichem, which started in 1998 and ended in 2001. The managers were not found guilty, however this lead to a growing public awareness on the need for citizens and workers to be protected against environmental damages.
This is a remarkable story. Bortolozzo managed to build bridges between contrasting rights and needs, such as the right to work and the right to health and an intact environment. But this was not all in his life. Besides being an activist in the workers’ movement , Bortolozzo was also a good father and husband who understood the importance of human relations and friendship, for whom it was pleasant things that made life worth living. He devoted time and energy to study the territory, its rivers, flora and fauna. He could identify hundreds of bird species from their singing and he could trace Hemingway’s journeys in Veneto.
When he retired he had even more time to dedicate to his interests. He organized bike trips for old and new friends in the surrounding areas of natural interest and visits to local cultural and artistic attractions. He was convinced of the importance of providing information to young people. For him retirement was a new phase in life characterized by commitment to transmitting knowledge, sharing experiences and creating bridges among people.
Gabriele Bortolozzo died on 12 September 1995 in Mogliano Veneto, run over while he was riding his bike. The Association named after him, set up by his daughter Beatrice and son Gianluca together with other friends and supporters, is committed to the protection of the cultural and environmental heritage of the Veneto region. It took part in the trial against Enichem, established two scholarships, created a web site to spread its activities and built an on-line library. It was also responsible for the posthumous publication of the book “L’erba ha voglia di vita” and was awarded the Ken Saro Wiwa Prize in memory of Gabriele Bortolozzo.
Given the need to “globalize” the right to work and the protection of life and of the environment, given the loss of individuality that threatens to lessen the importance of past social achievements, the Alexander Langer Foundation believes that Gabriele Bortolozzo is an outstanding example and therefore considers the Association the best possible continuation of his studies, work and vision of the world.
President of the Foundation
President of the Scientific Committee