With the fall of temperatures in Athens, a new problem associated with environmental pollution occurred. Smog covered Athens, but this time scientists argue that it was not caused by heavy traffic, but by particulate matter (PM10) released into the atmosphere while burning firewood. Following the most recent increase in prices of heating oil, citizens of the larger cities in the country resorted to stoves and fireplaces, which increased firewood and charcoal consumption. According to the norms established in Greece, over the weekend, the level of particulate matter in the atmosphere was three to four times above the norm.
The average acceptable value of fine particles in the atmosphere is 50 micrograms per cubic metre. In the metropolitan district of Maroussi it reached 174 micrograms per cubic metre, in Halandri and suburban Aspropirgos it was 150 micrograms per cubic metre, while in Likovrisi the level of fine particles emitted into the atmosphere was nearly 190 micrograms per cubic metre - almost four times above the norm.
Air pollution increases in the winter, when harmful emissions are combined with fine particles from burning wood. Low quality firewood, firewood treated with chemicals, as well as improper burning of pellets in stoves which are unfit for this purpose, further aggravated the situation, Ethnos reported. According to Ta Nea newspaper, over 80% of apartments and buildings built after 2000 have built-in fireplaces. While in previous years they were used mainly for decorative purposes, this season, Greek households rely on wood for heating as one of the most economical ways to keep warm during the winter season.
According to recent information, this year, sales of wood-burning stoves have increased by 30%, and demand for a new generation of energy-saving stoves has been 40%. Increased demand has resulted in a boom in firewood supply. According to local observers, newly emerged timber merchants, for the most part, operate on the edge of the law, sell without the necessary permits and often offer low quality wood.
The National Observatory of Athens, Democritus University on the Island of Crete and the metropolitan Polytechnic will start a major study on the issue, as a result of the greater consumption of firewood, in order to determine the precise source of the problem. Head of the Research Unit at the Institute for Environmental and Scientific Research Vangelis Gerasopoulos said that the scientific group will examine the chemical composition of the cloud and the concentration of substances in it in order to clarify what the harmful elements are and how they can be neutralised.
Fine particulate matter is considered very unhealthy. It is easily accumulated in the body when a person is exposed to contaminated environments for a long time, and, in large quantities, it can cause lung tissue damage. Air pollution poses great risks particularly to children, the elderly and people with chronic lung disease and asthma.
The increase in fine particles in the atmosphere made Greek media recall to attention "The Great Smog" phenomenon which covered London in 1952 and killed four thousand people within a single month. That winter's polluted atmosphere, as a result of increased burning of wood and coal, caused the death mainly of children, old people and those with respiratory problems. By March 1953, eight thousand people had died, which made the government introduce new environmental standards. Three years later, the Clean Air Act came into force, providing for the restriction of the use of harmful fuels in the industry.