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5 Dead After Inhaling Hazardous Gas at a Water Plant in Sicily

Five workers died on Monday afternoon while working in a sewer connected to a water treatment plant in the town of Casteldaccia near Palermo, Sicily, according to firefighters who recovered the bodies. A sixth worker was seriously injured and in intensive care, local officials said.

Girolamo Bentivoglio, chief of firefighters in Palermo, said the workers had breathed in hydrogen sulfide, a gas often present at waste treatment plants that is toxic in high concentrations. Levels were so high at the site where the workers were killed, “that fatality is immediate,” Mr. Bentivoglio said in a televised interview on RaiNews24, the national broadcaster’s news channel.

The accident raised a new round of outrage over the incidence of workplace deaths in Italy. In April, seven workers were killed in an explosion in a hydroelectric plant near Bologna, while five died in Florence during the construction of a supermarket in February.

According to the European statistics agency Eurostat, Italy ranks eighth among European countries in fatal accidents at work, with an incidence of 2.66 per 100,000 employed, which is higher than the European Union average of 1.76, but lower than France’s 3.32.

“Had they adopted all the precautions, all the safety measures, including personal protective equipment, we wouldn’t have been faced with this scenario,” Mr. Bentivoglio said.

According to Inail, the National Institute for Insurance Against Accidents at Work, there have been 191 work-related deaths in the first three months of 2024.

“The tragedy of Casteldaccia responds to a pattern that has been repeated too often in recent months,” the leaders of three Sicilian trade unions said in a joint statement published by Italian news outlets.

The causes of the accident would have to be verified, as well as the responsibilities of the companies involved and the question of whether safety regulations had been complied with, the unions said.

While workplace deaths continued to occur, the offices that monitored workplace safety remained understaffed, they added.

“Sicily once again mourns its dead in the workplace,” they wrote.

In a post on the social network X, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy called for “full light to be shed on this tragedy.”

The Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, said “this latest unacceptable workplace massacre,” must serve to reiterate the need for common commitment involving unions, entrepreneurs and institutions, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The five workers who died Monday were carrying out work for Amap, which manages the integrated water service — including water purification and distribution for residential use, and waste water treatment — for the City of Palermo and the smaller municipalities that gravitate around the Sicilian capital. Only one of the five workers was an Amap employee; the others worked for a company that had subcontracted the work, Italian news media reported.

Giovanni Di Giacinto, the mayor of Casteldaccia, said in a telephone interview that investigations into the accident were underway. “It’s an immense tragedy,” he said.

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