Saturday, 12 March 2011

Curse of Clooney's Italian Villa Strikes Again

Somehow, ever since he moved into an idyllic villa on the shores of Lake Como, nothing has really gone right for George Clooney. His purchase of Villa Oleandra - for £8m - led to a reported bust-up in 2002 with his agent over commission on the property.

Not long after the Hollywood heart-throb began to live beside the Lombardy lake an oil spill from a nearby factory blackened the beauty spot's waters. Then, last month, the actor threatened to sell up altogether because of a planned development that would allow tourists and fans to gather in large numbers right beside his property.

Yesterday an Italian environmental organisation delivered the unkindest cut of all, publicising the news that the limpid waters that lap at the very walls of Villa Oleandra were among the most polluted anywhere in Italy.

A survey published by the environmental organisation Legambiente said that a sample taken from a tiny public beach next to the actor's Italian retreat, which he tried unsuccessfully to buy two years ago, was alive with fecal bacteria. Levels of enterococcus faecalis were 10 times the legal limit. The presence of escherichia (E coli) was more than twice the legal maximum.

Legambiente gave the beach, Riva del Tenciuu, four warning asterisks and listed it as "heavily polluted".

The organisation tested 120 beaches at lakes throughout Italy and found that more than 70 were failing to comply with environmental legislation. Riva del Tenciuu has long boasted a "no bathing" sign but local residents have traditionally ignored the warning. A reporter from the daily La Repubblica recently found people in the vicinity reluctant to believe that the clear waters of the lake could be so filthy.

Significant progress has been made in recent years on cleaning up Italy's once heavily polluted coastline. But, until Legambiente's survey, no one had paid much attention to the country's lakes, which are increasingly popular both as holiday destinations and with villa buyers. The fashion designer Donatella Versace also has a retreat at Laglio.

Stefano Ciafani, Legambiente's scientific officer, said: "We found pollution levels similar to those in the sea 20 years ago. The sea water has clearly improved. That in the lakes has not."

One of the biologists who took the samples said: "Where a lake is heavily polluted there is a risk of skin infections and dermatitis. In the waters to which we have given four asterisks there is also a risk of finding more aggressive bacteria such as salmonella."