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Monday, October 25, 2021

Pandora Papers: As a poisoned town sought justice, top chemical giant executive moved millions to tax havens

Italian prosecutors brought criminal charges against more than two dozen people, including Solvay executives, and the plant’s former owner, accusing them of intentionally poisoning the groundwater.


October 6, 2021 8:10:00 pm
Over its nearly 120-year history, the Solvay SA plant in Spinetta Marengo produced all manner of toxic products, including synthetic dyes and the pesticide DDT. (Source: ICIJ)

By Scilla Alecci

On a cold December day in 2005, a lab analyst named Pietro Mancini descended into the basement of an aging chemical factory in the northern Italian town of Spinetta Marengo, where he discovered something curious: a coating of yellow dust on the walls and floor, left behind, apparently, by melted snow that had flooded the room.

In a storeroom in a separate building, he found sludge — also yellowish — oozing from a crack in a baseboard. He took a sample. A test revealed that the substance was brimming with hexavalent chromium, a heavy metal known to cause cancer.

When Mancini complained about the health threat to workers, his plant manager and his lab chief downplayed the risks, Mancini later testified. “They told me not to worry … that it wasn’t my business,” he said.

Over its nearly 120-year history, the Italian plant produced all manner of toxic products, including synthetic dyes and the pesticide DDT. Harmful chemicals involved in production were buried on the site and leaked into the groundwater. The plant later began using fluorinated compounds — also toxic — to make heat-resistant plastics and nonstick and water-repellent coatings for cookware and fabrics.

In 2001, a new owner, the Belgian chemical giant Solvay SA, promised that it would clean the site and prevent leaks. Company managers working under the architect of the acquisition, a senior Solvay executive named Bernard de Laguiche, were supposed to oversee the operation and report on its progress to Italian authorities.

But the cleanup and repairs lagged. Rather than disclose problems to authorities, company employees and contractors submitted reports that minimized the pollution and its potential harm, according to witness testimony as well as documents seized by Italian investigators and later reviewed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

In 2008, almost three years after Mancini’s storeroom discovery, environmental inspectors found hexavalent chromium at more than 40 times the legal limit in wells near the plant. Local authorities declared a public health emergency.

Italian prosecutors eventually brought criminal charges against more than two dozen people, including Solvay executives, and the plant’s former owner, accusing them of intentionally poisoning the groundwater and failing to clean up the site.

Among those charged: de Laguiche, a member of Solvay’s founding family. He had promoted the purchase of the struggling plant and others in Europe and the U.S. that used fluorinated compounds, intending for Solvay to compete globally with industry leader DuPont and its famed Teflon product. The plant acquisitions had been a success for his company.

Shortly before the charges were filed, and again soon after, de Laguiche and his immediate family moved assets worth more than $50 million into trusts in Singapore and New Zealand with the help of a prominent offshore service provider and Swiss advisors, confidential records show.

The documents, known as the Pandora Papers, were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with hundreds of news agencies. They reveal a vast exodus of money into tax havens by the wealthy and powerful, beyond the reach of tax collectors and law enforcement authorities, and unprecedented detail about the white collar professionals who help them do it.

The roster of people directing their money into offshore companies and trusts, the records show, includes prominent executives of chemical companies accused of major violations of environmental laws in countries including India and Russia.

In the case of the de Laguiche family, the hidden wealth included millions of dollars worth of shares in Solvay, which owns chemical plants with long-standing pollution problems. The records show that some of their assets were shifted from Switzerland, which was improving its transparency standards, prompting financial advisors to recommend more secretive locales.

Over the past two decades, dozens of Solvay workers and people living near Solvay facilities have sued the company over water and soil pollution, the loss of farmland and a range of maladies including mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos. During that time, the company has paid at least $74 million in court awards for environmental violations, an ICIJ review of public records found. The company said it has spent more than $55 million to clean contaminated areas globally.

“It’s the middle class and the poor who are paying for everything, because the wealthy have found a way not to pay their fair share,” said Eric Kades, a professor specializing in trusts and wealth inequality at William & Mary Law School.

De Laguiche was later acquitted. He declined to comment on the legal case and the management of his family’s assets, but said he didn’t move wealth offshore in response to the Italian investigation or to avoid taxes.

“I have always managed my family assets in good faith and have met all reporting and other obligations vis-à-vis tax authorities, market regulators, while strictly complying to the Solvay dealing code,” he wrote in an email to ICIJ.

The lab and the storeroom of the Italian factory were closed after Mancini filed an official complaint with local health authorities. He was later fired. He sued and settled with Solvay for an undisclosed amount.

In 2015, doctors removed a cancerous tumor from his right kidney.

Solvay said Mancini was fired “for just cause” without providing further details.

Solvay is “committed to maintaining the highest standards of safe and sustainable operations” and that it “has taken important remedial actions over many years consistent with [its] standards and environmental commitments,” the company said in a letter.

“No falsification or minimisation of the extent of the contamination have ever taken place on Solvay’s side (either by its plant personnel or external consultants).”

‘To live happy, live hidden’

Publicly traded on the Paris and Brussels stock exchanges, Solvay is one of the world’s largest chemicals and plastics producers, with 110 industrial sites in 64 countries and 2020 sales of $11 billion. Its products include high-strength plastics for spinal implants and airplanes.

The company traces its roots to two enterprising Belgian brothers, Ernest and Alfred Solvay, science enthusiasts and self-taught industrialists who in 1863 patented a way to process soda ash, a compound used to make glass and soap and to bleach fabrics and paper. Its food-grade variant, baking soda, is a supermarket staple.

From the start, the company prized family ties and discretion. “Around the cradle of the new company, the Solvay family formed a tightly-welded ‘clan,’” an official company history found among the Pandora Papers declares. This history cites an early family motto: “To live happy, live hidden.”

In the 1980s, the family ownership group created Solvac, a Belgium-registered holding company that remains in control today as Solvay’s largest shareholder.

More than 2,300 descendants of the Solvay brothers and their original collaborators own shares in Solvac, now in its sixth generation of family control.

De Laguiche, 62, is a prominent member of the Solvay clan. He was educated at top business schools in Switzerland and Brazil and holds French and Brazilian citizenship.

De Laguiche went to work for Solvay in 1987. A 2013 photo in his Brussels office shows him next to a black-and-white portrait of his great-great grandfather, Alfred Solvay.

In interviews, he has downplayed the role of family ties in his success.

“What helped me was my education, very focused on effort and meritocracy,” he said in a profile by a trade publication, Trends, which had named him Belgium’s chief financial officer of the year. “The family side played a very little role in my beginnings.”

A career milestone came in 2000 when de Laguiche was put in charge of a $1.2 billion deal to buy Ausimont, the struggling Italian owner of the Spinetta Marengo chemical plant and seven others.

In a stroke, the deal expanded Solvay’s portfolio to include a type of synthetic rubber, branded Tecnoflon, and Fluorolink, a surface treatment to make glass and ceramics oil- and water-repellent, positioning the company to compete directly with DuPont and other chemical giants.

“This is the most important investment in the history of Solvay,” de Laguiche said in a news release celebrating the closing of the deal.

But with the acquisitions, Solvay also acquired the plants’ many problems.

Tainted blood

A brick wall divides the Spinetta Marengo plant from the residential neighborhoods of the town of about 6,000, best known as the site of one of Napoleon’s most notable victories. Dozens of trucks crisscross the narrow streets. A constant humming of plant machinery is overlaid several times a day with the toll of church bells.

The plant has been both a blessing and a menace. It has brought jobs and steady paychecks to generations of workers. But longtime residents recall how, in the 1990s, acid rain caused by the plant’s former operations killed vegetation and corroded car bodies at a local dealership.

A 2016 study by the regional environmental protection agency found that plant workers had an increased risk of dying of lung cancer and other ailments and that exposure to toxic chemicals, including some solvents still used today, was likely to blame.

Starting shortly after Solvay acquired the plant in 2001, de Laguiche traveled to regular meetings that included the heads of the Spinetta Marengo unit’s health and environmental safety department, internal records seized by Italian investigators show. The two executives in charge of negotiating the site’s cleanup with Italian environmental authorities reported to de Laguiche directly.

In the meetings, de Laguiche and the other executives also discussed a recently discovered problem: worker exposure to fluorinated compounds. Also known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, these compounds belong to a class of more than 4,000 “forever” chemicals that don’t break down in the natural environment.

The chemicals were known to cause cancer in animals, but little published research had been done on health effects in humans.

At a meeting in January 2004, records show, de Laguiche’s subordinates reported results of plant worker blood screenings for perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA, one of the forever chemicals.

One of the employees tested, Daniele Ferrarazzo, began working at the plant in the mid-1990s to pay for his studies toward a degree in music therapy. He stayed on for the good pay and a work schedule that allowed him to pursue his passion in his off-hours, he told ICIJ.

After a few years of producing PFOA polymer for nonstick pans, Ferrarazzo moved to a research unit testing new fluorine-based products, where he met Sonny Alessandrini. The coworkers became friends.

In interviews in Italian, Ferrarazzo and Alessandrini said they had witnessed yellow sludge ooze from baseboards and evidence of exposure to other toxins. Their unit’s ventilation system was inadequate, causing them to breathe hazardous gases for years, they said.

There is no uniform standard for what constitutes an unsafe level of PFOA in a person’s body. But a test of Ferrarazzo’s blood showed a level 900 times a common safety benchmark, according to the lab hired by Solvay.

The two friends felt isolated and afraid. The fear of losing their jobs imposed a code of silence among workers on the plant floor, making it difficult for them to share their concerns, Ferrarazzo and Alessandrini said.

“One day, one says to me: ‘What do I do if I lose my job?’ ” Ferrarazzo recalled. “And I said: ‘And what do you do if you get cancer?’ ”

In February 2008, Ferrarazzo and Alessandrini, whose test also showed an elevated toxin level, decided to act. They filed an official complaint with a local occupational safety agency, alleging serious safety problems at the plant. “We can no longer allow this multinational to put us and other Spinetta residents in such a condition that we have to trade our health for a job opportunity,” they wrote.

Alessandrini was later fired for what company lawyers called “obstructive behavior” and “insubordination.” He refused a transfer to another unit, the company said. Alessandrini said he had good reason to fight the move: He feared he would be exposed to even higher levels of toxic chemicals in the new unit. Ferrarazzo said he was asked to resign and received severance pay.

Solvay said the two workers were “terminated for just cause.” The company fixed the ventilation system after the workers’ complaint, court records say.

After his dismissal, Alessandrini was diagnosed with trichoepithelioma, a rare skin cancer. His doctor told him that a possible cause was contact with chemicals at work, Alessandrini later testified.

Alessandrini struggled to find steady work. Worried about their toddler’s health, he and his partner bought bottled water to drink, but they “unfortunately” continued to use tap water for cooking and showering to save money, he said.

Some PFAS have since been linked to human thyroid hormone disruption, liver and kidney cancer and other deadly diseases. Solvay no longer uses the type of PFAS that was found in the workers’ blood.

The company said that “long-term medical surveillance of employees indicates no correlation with pathological effects related to occupational exposure to PFAS.” It did not provide data to support the claim, citing confidentiality.

‘The proven proof’

The plant’s pollution problems erupted into public view when an unrelated May 2008 inspection near a shuttered sugar factory found alarming levels of cancer-causing chemicals in several wells. Authorities traced the source to the Solvay plant three miles away.

“We had the proven proof of the contamination and its scale,” Alberto Maffiotti, head of the city’s environmental agency at the time, recalled in an interview with ICIJ.

Inspectors also discovered that dozens of nearby homes were using water drawn from a well directly beneath the Solvay plant for their vegetable gardens. And the same well supplied water for coffee machines in the plant, regularly used by Alessandrini and his co-worker Pietro Mancini.

Starting in May 2008, an environmental crimes unit of the Italian carabinieri, the military police, searched offices near Milan of Solvay Solexis, the company’s polymers unit. They seized dozens of files found in the office basement, along with emails of about 200 employees.

One of the investigators’ searches revealed two sets of environmental records, one for internal use and another to show authorities. In the “official” set, potentially damning data about arsenic found in the soil near the plant had been left out, one of the officers later testified.

The investigators also found that Solvay employees routinely deleted findings about hazardous chemicals from lab analysis reports provided to inspectors.

In October 2009, prosecutors filed a groundbreaking criminal case, charging 39 people, including the plant’s previous owners, current and former Solvay health and environmental safety officers in Italy and, notably, top executives in Brussels.

De Laguiche, who had been promoted to be Solvay’s chief financial officer, was accused of causing water and soil pollution in Spinetta Marengo and failing to clean up the contamination, charges that carried a possible prison term of up to 18 years.

Solvay said in financial filings that it “vigorously contested” the allegations.

De Laguiche declined to comment on the case saying he does “not have authority” to answer questions on the matter.

‘Wealth preservation’

In the summer of 2009, as Italian authorities investigated Solvay’s handling of the cleanup, de Laguiche and his family began to transfer some of their assets out of Europe and into several offshore entities, the leaked files show.

In June, financial advisers working for the family established a trust in New Zealand that would eventually receive Solvay shares valued at $11.3 million and $412,000 in Solvay dividends. Bernard de Laguiche was one of the beneficiaries. The documents don’t say who instructed the advisers to create the trust.

At the time, New Zealand offered anonymity and tax exemptions to foreigners who established trusts there. The country didn’t require that trust managers ー often for-hire professionals and the only party listed in New Zealand’s official records ー to disclose a trust’s real owners or what it held.

In July, two of de Laguiche’s sisters met with wealth managers and lawyers in Basel, Switzerland, the leaked records show. The founder of Asiaciti Trust, an offshore services specialist in Singapore, was also there.

Using a whiteboard, the family’s French lawyer outlined how Asiaciti could help family members shift assets from a Swiss bank account to a Singapore-registered trust and Singapore bank. The changes would be made, the lawyer said, “to avoid disclosure in Switzerland,” which was poised to make its notoriously secretive banking system more forthcoming.

Like New Zealand, Singapore at the time offered nonresidents confidentiality, a full tax exemption for foreign-sourced income and protection from creditors. What’s more, Singapore had yet to adopt international standards set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that require countries to share tax information with foreign authorities. (Singapore complied in 2014; New Zealand overhauled its trust laws in 2017.)

A cousin and one of the family’s wealth advisers “noted that there is a desire to move forward quickly,” according to minutes of the meeting.

Asiaciti did not comment on any of its clients and said the firm complies with the laws of the jurisdictions where it operates.

In 2011, de Laguiche transferred at least $57 million in Solvay stock and other assets to two new Singapore-registered trusts set up by Asiaciti. One was named “Cagibi” after his Brazilian farm. Each trust owned a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. His wife and two children were beneficiaries.

A trust is a legal agreement designed to protect a person’s assets or reduce their tax burden. A trust settlor transfers legal ownership of assets ー stocks, cash, real estate ー to another party, often a professional firm such as Asiaciti. The firm controls the assets on behalf of beneficiaries. In practice, the original owner can retain a degree of control. Because of the layer between actual owners and their assets, trusts are sometimes used for tax evasion and money laundering.

De Laguiche told ICIJ that he did not set up the trusts “for tax purposes” and did not receive any tax benefit.

The BVI company controlled by his Cagibi Trust, Cagibi Investments Ltd., regularly took part in Solvay corporate shareholder meetings and voted on company decisions through a proxy, according to the leaked files.

Proxy statements, which notify the company that someone other than the shareholder will be casting a ballot, didn’t mention de Laguiche. They identified the BVI firm as the shareholder.

De Laguiche said he reported his trades as required.

U.S. and European securities rules normally require executives to disclose their holdings and trading information to guard against insider trading and conflicts of interest. But European privacy law doesn’t allow the securities regulator in Belgium ー where Solvay is headquartered and listed ー to publish insider trading information from before 2016, a spokesman said. No information is available about whether de Laguiche declared his ownership to Solvay or regulators.

Solvay said the company does “not comment on the personal finances of particular Solvay shareholders when the information is not publicly available.”

The leaked records show that two other Solvay insiders also owned shell companies registered in secrecy jurisdictions.Guy de Selliers, a former Solvay director, used a shell company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands to own a house in Dorset, England. The property was disclosed to U.K. tax authorities and later transferred to a British company, de Selliers told ICIJ. He added that he owns Solvac and Solvay shares through an offshore trust.

Hubert de Wangen, also a former Solvay director, held inherited Solvay shares in a Singapore trust with a listed value of $10 million. He said that his fiscal situation is “transparent” and that he complies with the tax regulations of Switzerland, where he resides.

“Environment problems were of course discussed during assemblies,” said de Wangen, who worked for Solvay until 2008. “The board have always supported collectively the decisions presented by the executive committee to solve these problems.”

In January 2012, de Laguiche and other shareholders celebrated a milestone: Solvay shares began trading in Paris on the prestigious pan-European exchange now known as Euronext.

In a small, crowded room off the stock exchange floor, a smiling de Laguiche celebrated the listing.

Proxy statements filed three months after the ceremony show that the anonymous companies indirectly controlled by de Laguiche and other members of his family held at least 387,027 Solvay shares, then worth more than $43 million, through the offshore structures set up by Asiaciti.

Living with uncertainty

Maria Chiara Rossi, a pediatric surgeon, moved to Spinetta Marengo to be with her partner and start a family in early 2007. Almost two years later, they had their first son, Leone.

The Solvay plant stood just a few hundred feet across the street from their house, and Rossi saw it every time she opened the windows. At night, the lit-up factory looked like a postcard of the Manhattan skyline.

Rossi said she wasn’t aware of the “chromium emergency” declared by authorities shortly after Leone’s birth. Then working long shifts at the city hospital, she frequently left the boy with her in-laws nearby, where he played in the garden as his grandfather tended lettuce and other vegetables.

Rossi realized that something was wrong with her son when he began to become ill with unusual frequency in the five months after his second birthday. She took Leone to a doctor, and in June 2011, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

Rossi, who had just given birth to a second child, moved to Turin, about 60 miles away, for Leone to begin two years of treatment. (He’s now healthy, Rossi said.)

“I thought the plant was under control, like any factory should be,” Rossi said. “Only later I realized the scale of the problem and how many workers and families had suffered.”

A 2019 study by local health authorities would later find that people living within two miles of the Spinetta Marengo plant were 30% more likely to develop leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and stomach or kidney cancer than the population at large. Children from the area were found to be more prone to neurological disease.

Rossi signed on to the Solvay criminal case under a provision of Italian law that allows civil plaintiffs in criminal cases, joining dozens of residents, civic groups, local governments and the Italian environmental ministry.

The trial began in April 2013 at the Alessandria city courthouse, and it dragged on for more than two years. Solvay executives did not attend.

The courtroom, in a World War II-era building with marble flooring, looked like a movie set, Rossi recalled. “There were us, poor folks with our sob stories, to say, ‘We got sick,’ on one side,” she said, “and, on the other, some two dozen lawyers all looking perfect in their gowns.”

The prosecutor argued that de Laguiche and the other top executives were “at their command post” from day one and knew, or should have known, about environmental problems at the plant.

De Laguiche’s lawyer said his client wasn’t to blame for contamination at the Italian plant and accused the prosecutor of trying to paint him falsely as “a criminal attacking public health.”

Moving on

After a 26-year career, de Laguiche left Solvay’s management team in 2013 to “pursue some personal project” in Brazil ー where he owned the farm ー according to a report on a second-quarter conference call to discuss earnings with analysts. De Laguiche was later named director in charge of “day-to-day management” of Solvac, the family-controlled holding company that is Solvay’s largest shareholder, and he stayed on as a Solvay board member.

His move to Brazil triggered changes in his offshore investment strategy, the leaked records show.

In confidential emails, an Asiaciti officer reported that de Laguiche’s tax adviser had deemed the Singapore trusts “disadvantageous” in Brazil. De Laguiche wanted out.

Records prepared by the firm and addressed to Brazilian tax authorities show that at the time the trusts were closed, his assets, which included Solvay shares, were valued at about $51 million.

Though he terminated the Singapore trusts, de Laguiche kept his two BVI investment companies. He moved their multimillion-dollar portfolio from a Singapore bank account to a Swiss bank account.

He then used one of those companies to pay a Swiss real estate firm and purchase a $7 million, six-room vacation home with a large garden and two parking lots in La Punt, a medieval village in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. (The BVI companies were dissolved in 2021, according to BVI records.)

The verdict

In December 2015, an Italian court found two of de Laguiche’s former executive subordinates and the Spinetta Marengo plant manager guilty of causing environmental damage. Also convicted was a manager who worked for the plant’s previous owner, and Solvay was ordered to pay about $430,000 in compensation to Spinetta Marengo residents and other civil parties.

In a 350-page judgment, the court concluded that there had been “no real or serious intervention” to remove the source of contamination and fix the leaks that had caused toxins to spread outside the site.

De Laguiche and two other executives were acquitted. In Italy, as in other countries, the burden of proof for a criminal conviction is high — and prosecutors hadn’t provided enough evidence to show that the executives knew about the coverup, the judges said.

In 2019, Italy’s Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, upheld the verdict against Solvay and its managers. The company “should have adopted remedies to avert dangers to people and the environment,” the court said.

Solvay said that it has installed a system to contain and filter as much runoff as six Olympic swimming pools per day from the Spinetta Marengo plant. The company also says it has spent more than $30 million on the cleanup and expects to spend millions more.

In an arbitration claim brought before an international commercial court, Solvay said that the Italian company that sold it the factory misrepresented the extent of the site’s environmental conditions at the time of the sale. In June, Solvay said that it had won a $107 million award.

Déjà vu

About 4,000 miles away, in Paulsboro, New Jersey, the swings and slides of a children’s playground along the Delaware River are dwarfed by the looming exhaust stacks of a refinery on one side and, on the other, a Solvay plant the size of 10 soccer fields.

The plant was acquired in 2001 as part of the same deal brokered by de Laguiche that brought the Spinetta Marengo factory under Solvay control. It, too, uses fluorinated compounds to produce an industrial resin used in paints and plastics.And, like the Italian plant, it came with pollution concerns.

In 2013, researchers for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group, uncovered government records documenting that the Solvay plant had been leaking PFAS and other toxic chemicals into the public water system and private wells for years.

After news coverage of the group’s findings created an uproar, state officials warned that children less than a year old should drink only bottled water because the Paulsboro water supply was contaminated.

Though Solvay didn’t acknowledge responsibility, the company distributed bottled water to local residents and began to study whether the plant was the source of the contamination.

In 2014, three Paulsboro families sued the company in federal court in New Jersey, alleging that it had put them “at an increased risk” of health problems. Solvay agreed to settle for $2.7 million without admitting wrongdoing.

New Jersey regulators would later rule that Solvay and other area chemical producers were responsible for “the significant contamination” of the state’s natural resources and ordered Solvay to pay more than $3 million.

West Deptford Township closed two public wells near the plant after testing found PFAS levels that exceeded state guidelines.

From her garden, Marylin Quinn, a retired librarian, can see part of a tower inside the Solvay plant. She calls it the “Christmas tree” because of a red flag waving on top.

Quinn often checks the township drinking water reports. They continue to show elevated levels of PFAS chemicals. Earlier this year, she decided to hire a plumber to install a $486 water filter meant to remove chemicals like PFAS.

“The filters are the only solution I have for myself at this point,” Quinn said.

Toxicological reports obtained by Consumer Reports last year indicate that Solvay had known since the early 2000s that some PFAS chemicals produced in Italy and used in New Jersey could pose health risks.

Last November, the state of New Jersey sued Solvay, alleging that the company failed to clean up drinking water contamination linked to toxic compounds at the plant and hid health risks from the public.

A spokeswoman for Solvay Specialty Polymers USA LLC called the state’s allegations “inaccurate, overly broad and meritless.”

The company said it “is fully committed to completing its ongoing investigation and remediation of any PFAS impacts attributable to its facility.”

The case is pending in state court in Gloucester County.

‘I would do it again’

Pietro Mancini, now 53, was unable to find steady work for years and the Solvay money from his court settlement didn’t last, he said in an interview with ICIJ.

He now lives with his wife, daughter and dog in a town by the sea, on Italy’s eastern coast, about 300 miles from Spinetta Marengo.

The plant still haunts him. He has recurring nightmares about working in the contaminated lab, Mancini said. He hasn’t completely recovered from his cancer surgery, he said. He used to swim and play tennis. Now he can’t, without feeling dizzy or tired, he said.

In his apartment, he pointed to a portrait of his late father, a carabiniere. His father taught him to expose wrongdoing without fearing the consequences, Mancini said.

“I would do it again,” Mancini said about filing a complaint about Solvay site conditions. “I don’t have anybody’s health on my conscience.”

He recently applied for early retirement.

During the COVID-19 pandemic he cooked dinner for his wife, a care worker, while she was busy tending patients at a hospital.

Spinetta Marengo is where “they took 10 years of my life and a piece of me,” he said.

On a chilly morning in February 2021, uniformed carabinieri and prosecutors arrived at Solvay’s Spinetta Marengo plant. They seized its entire document archive.

The company responded with a brochure distributed to Spinetta Marengo residents and plant workers. “There is no evidence that today the Solvay plant poses a real danger to people’s health and the environment,” it said.

The police search was prompted by tests that found PFAS from the Solvay plant in water sources hundreds of miles away.

Solvay told ICIJ that the runoff was due to “exceptional and unpredictable weather events.”

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