The Reason This Beach In Italy Is Strikingly Beautiful Is Also Why It's Extremely Dangerous

When you visit a beach in the United States, you'll find that most of our coastal waters are monitored by local public health organizations, and can warn swimmers not to dip their toes in if E. coli levels are dangerously high. However, what would you do if you swam into beautiful crystal clear waters with gorgeous sandy white beaches that local officials deemed safe, despite the fact that a nearby chemical plant was dumping waste directly into the surf? Would you trust local officials? Or would you think twice?

This is the scenario currently playing out on the Tuscan beach known as Rosignano Solvay, where a factory that has been producing soda ash next to the beach since 1912 has legal permission to dump 250,000 tons of waste a year directly into the water and onto the beach, per France 24. The company Solvay, for whom the beach is named, released a statement insisting that their waste-dumping is "not harmful for living organisms, including people and fish." But is that trustworthy? Even the town's mayor has refused to fund research into the beach's safety, while simultaneously renewing the plant's license, according to Bloomberg. If this is giving you major "Erin Brockovich" vibes, you're not alone. Here's everything you need to know about this beautiful, Caribbean-style beach in Italy that might be dangerous.

Experts say the beach is toxic

While you might expect to see crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches in the Caribbean, Italian beaches don't necessarily look that way — unless there's something serious going on. The U.N.'s special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana, told Bloomberg that the chemicals dumped onto Rosignano Solvay beach are causing the unusual beach color, noting, "Clearly, the environmental impact is a question — the beach is white." What's more, the town has a higher mortality rate, and higher incidents of tumors than what's normal for the region. "There's already evidence of environmental harm in the area and the latent health impact of heavy metals cannot be estimated," environmental professor Jules van Lier told Bloomberg. The European Pollution Release and Transfer Register's report (via Bloomberg) also says the water's heavy metals "explain the increased mortality from both Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular diseases."

And yet, the Rosignano Solvay beachgoers seem unconcerned. One Italian tourist told Vice, "We're not worried, but we're just swimming," as opposed to the many people who live there. The Daily Mail also found tourists unbothered by the health implications. "I was told it's not dangerous, that the color comes from the soda factory next door," one Dutch tourist said (perhaps conflating soda with soda ash), while an Italian teacher added, "Every time I come here, I think that if swimming is allowed by local, regional, and national authorities, we can believe them when they say that the water is clean."

Solvay is slowly reducing its chemical dumping

It turns out the pressure from the media and investigations into the health implications are having an effect. Vice reports that all the negative attention has actually forced the company to alter its chemical dumping, saying Solvay was deeply affected after the U.N. published a scathing report on the company's chemical waste-dumping having a negative effect on residents' health. So much so that the soda ash plant then stated it plans to completely stop dumping its limestone waste into the waters by 2050. In the meantime, it will slowly reduce dumping, with a goal to cut its waste by 20% by 2030, and 40% by 2040. The Belgian company also pledged to invest $15 million to reduce carbon emissions. 

If you err on the side of caution, the best way to stay safe at Rosignano Solvay beach would be to avoid swimming there. So if you're in Tuscany and waiting for those waste reductions, yet still jonesing hard for some beach time, you're never too far from paradise. You can drive down the coast to the beaches of San Vincenzo, or drive up the coast past Livorno to the Bagno degli Americani beach. The great thing about being in Italy is you're never too far from a beautiful beach.