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In the Birthplace of Pizza, Pollution Rules for Ovens Spur Outrage …

Photo Gennaro Marano preparing a pizza on Monday at Il Cavallino, a restaurant in San Vitaliano, Italy. In an effort to decrease air pollution, the mayor of the town, Antonio Falcone, issued an ordinance banning the use of wood-fired stoves not equipped with proper filters.

Credit
Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

SAN VITALIANO, Italy If there is one label that Antonio Falcone, a doctor turned civic leader, does not want to be known by, it is the anti-pizza mayor.

Yet that is how notoriety caught up with the mayor of this small town in the Neapolitan hinterland in late December when, in an effort to lower air pollution, Mr. Falcone issued an ordinance banning the use of wood-fired stoves not equipped with filters that reduce toxic air pollutants.

The ban affects family homes with chimneys as well as businesses like bakeries, restaurants and most controversially wood-burning pizzerias, the gastronomic boast of an area known as the birthplace of one of Italy s most renowned culinary exports. Outrage was guaranteed.

We ve even been compared to China, complained Pasquale Tufano of Ristorante La Vigna, piqued that the town s half-dozen pizzerias had been singled out and equated with a country whose capital, Beijing, announced its first-ever toxic smog red alert last month.

The mayor here was attacked on social media. There were public protests and calls for his resignation.

Photo I became the anti-pizza mayor, said Mr. Falcone, adding that the new ordinance was in San Vitaliano s best interests. I am responsible for the health of the citizens of this town. We had to start somewhere.

Credit
Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

I became the anti-pizza mayor, rued Mr. Falcone, adding that he only acted in San Vitaliano s best interests. I am responsible for the health of the citizens of this town. We had to start somewhere.

In fact, Mr. Falcone was one of dozens of Italian mayors who adopted emergency measures last month after a prolonged dry spell repeatedly pushed air pollutants beyond legal limits.

Rome, which has been trying to reduce car emissions to help clean the air, restricted driving to days based on the odd or even numbers at the end of license plates. Milan banned all traffic for three consecutive days, to little effect. Milan and other cities even banned fireworks on New Year s Eve.

Italy is one of the worst countries in Europe for air quality. The country has a heavily industrialized north, poorly maintained private furnaces, growing traffic congestion, widespread use of diesel fuel and years of neglectful spending on infrastructure for freight trains and public transportation, environmentalists say. Even the geography hurts Italy, with its mountains and valleys preventing much-needed air circulation.

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A 2015 government study found that some 30,000 Italians died as a result of air pollution each year.

As pollution levels rose this winter, and municipalities imposed bans on sources of pollution, the nation s environment minister held an emergency summit meeting in Rome with representatives of Italy s regions and municipalities.

The group proposed lowering thermostats in homes and offices, reducing city speed limits, scrapping older cars, encouraging public transportation and limiting the use of chimneys. But none of the measures were legally binding, and short of a nationally integrated approach to fighting pollution Italy currently lacks one the responsibility falls to mayors like Mr. Falcone.

The local ordinance gives pizzerias and other businesses until Feb. 29 to equip their ovens with appropriate filters. Starting March 1, inspectors will begin making their rounds.

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We re giving them time to prepare themselves. It s a question of civility, said Tulliano Carpino, who heads the town s technical department.

Let the inspectors come, said a defiant Giovanni Arricchiello, the owner of Il Cavallino restaurant, which is along the long strip mall along one edge of San Vitaliano.

Like other local pizza makers, Mr. Arricchiello already has pollution filters on his ovens, so the ordinance should not affect them.

You can t get a restaurant license without them, he said of the filters, producing a folder containing a photo of his high-tech one, as well as the restaurant s annual maintenance records. The vast majority of San Vitaliano s pizzerias say they have the proper filters in place.

Pizza ovens aside, Mr. Falcone said the main causes of San Vitaliano s air pollution remained a mystery. Traffic can be intense, but the town, about 15 miles northeast of Naples, is quite small, he said, and there are no major industries.

The town, however, abuts a highway cloverleaf, and is part of the densely populated Naples area, in a region known for illegal incineration of toxic waste by organized crime.

Photo A view of San Vitaliano, about 15 miles northeast of Naples. Italy is one of the worst countries in Europe for air quality. The country has a heavily industrialized north, growing traffic congestion, widespread use of diesel fuel and years of neglectful spending on infrastructure for freight trains and public transportation.

Credit
Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Vincenzo Russo, the council member responsible for the environment, proposed that cheap, chemically treated pellets used in stoves and boilers might be a culprit.

San Vitaliano s leaders, he said, have also begun a study with the nearby University of Naples Federico II to determine among other possible causes what impact a waste-to-energy plant in Acerra, a town less than 12 miles away, might be having on its neighbor.

But the message that has gotten through is that the mayor is anti-pizza, Mr. Russo said.

When Mr. Falcone called for a meeting with representatives from neighboring cities to discuss the pollution issue, only two midlevel administrators showed up, he said.

Locals say they have been wrongly singled out and are being punished because San Vitaliano is the only town in the area that has an air quality monitor, which became operational about a year ago.

Pollution is a real problem for all the area, but we ve got the only monitor, so we got caught in the crossfire, said Mr. Tufano, whose pizzeria, La Vigna, is equipped with filters.

He said that he had spent the better part of the last two weeks reassuring customers that his pizzeria had not been shut down.

I had to explain that we ve got all our papers in order, he said. If anything, I told them that they should not light their chimneys.

Rains that have swept through Italy since the beginning of the year have lowered pollution levels and could help sweep the problem away, as they have in the past.

We re the first people who enjoy pizza, but the question is bigger. There s an anthropological disaster in play, said Mr. Falcone, standing by his ordinance. The important thing is to make people aware and sensitive.

But some experts and environmentalists, while supportive of the measures proposed by the Italian government, remained skeptical that they would do much good without a more concerted national effort.

We need to decarbonize our society, that s what it comes down to, to invest in a real green economy, said Nicola Pirrone, director of the Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research at Italy s National Research Council. We still don t have a long-term strategic vision.

Pizza makers scoffed, too, in light of the rather obvious fact that polluted air moves, and complained that the ordinance would do little good if it applied only to San Vitaliano, barely a blip within the large Naples metropolitan area.

What are the other mayors doing? They re pretending like nothing is happening, said Antonio Mercadante, a local baker who said his ovens passed muster.

He understood why the mayor had issued the ordinance, but unless other towns also took measures, the baker added, It s just a joke.

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