Italy has been slow to confront its environmental problems. Central government agencies concerned with the environment are the Ministry for Ecology (established in 1983), the Ministry of Culture and Environmental Quality, the National Council for Research, and the Ministry for Coordination of Scientific and Technological Research. Localities also have responsibility for environmental protection, but most of the burden of planning and enforcement falls on regional authorities. The principal antipollution statute is Law No. 319 of 1976 (the Merli Law), which controls the disposal of organic and chemical wastes; enforcement, however, has proved difficult. Air pollution is a significant problem in Italy. United Nations sources estimate that carbon monoxide emissions increased by 12% in the period between 1985 and 1989. In the 1990s Italy had the world's tenth highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 407.7 million metric tons per year, a per capita level of7.03 metric tons. Water pollution is another important environmental issue in Italy. The nation's rivers and coasts have been polluted by industrial and agricultural contaminants and its lakes contaminated by acid rain. In 2001 the nation had 160 cu km of renewable water resources with 53% used in farming activity and 33% used for industrial purposes. Facilities for the treatment and disposal of industrial wastes are inadequate. Italy's cities have produce 19.1 million tons of solid waste per year. In July 1976, the city of Seveso, north of Milan (Milano), gained international attention after an explosion at a small Swiss-owned chemical plant released a cloud of debris contaminated by a toxic by-product, dioxin. More than 1,000 residents were evacuated, and pregnant women were advised to have abortions.
The long-term threat posed by flooding, pollution, erosion, and sinkage to the island city of Venice was highlighted by a disastrous flood in November 1966, which damaged priceless art treasures and manuscripts in Florence (Firenze). The digging of artesian wells in the nearby mainland cities of Mestre and Marghera so lowered the water table that the Venetian islands sank at many times the normal annual rate of 4 mm (0.16 in) a year between 1900 and 1975; with the wells capped as a protective measure, Venice's normal sinkage rate was restored. As of the mid-1980s, however, little effort had been made to control the number and speed of powerboats on the Grand Canal (the churning of whose waters causes buildings to erode), nor had the national government begun to implement a master plan for Venice approved in principle three years earlier. Rome has implemented a project designed, in part, to protect the Roman Forum and other ancient monuments from the vibration and pollution of motor vehicles.
Of Italy's mammal species, 10 are endangered, as well as 7 bird species and 202 plant species. Endangered species include the Italian gray partridge, Italian spadefoot toad, and the scarce large blue and false ringlet butterflies. The Sardinian pika and Spengler's freshwater mussel are extinct.