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Fireplaces have caused smog in Athens

16 December 2013 / 14:12:13  GRReporter
3315 reads

Smoking chimneys of buildings and low clouds over the past two days have caused a high concentration of air pollution in Athens. The cold weather and the high cost of heating fuel have made a large number of the residents of Athens use their fireplaces but, since the clouds have formed a kind of "lid" over the city, an average amount of 110 micrograms of flying particles per cubic metre of air hasbeen recorded in the suburb of Maroussi, their normal value being below 50 micrograms. In many regions of Athens, the concentration has reached 100 micrograms. For example, in the suburb of Likovrisi, the recorded pollution is 97 micrograms and 95 in the centre of Athens.

The warning of the meteorological service that weather conditions are favourable for the accumulation of pollutants in the atmosphere has driven the Ministries of Environment and Health to issue a joint statement in which they urge citizens to reduce the use of fireplaces until Monday.

"Low temperatures on the ground and high temperatures in the lower atmosphere have combined with an anticyclone, which is resulting in downward movements of air masses and in conditions for pollutants to remain in the atmosphere," explains meteorologist Thodoris Kolidas, according to whom the cold air masses of the anticyclone have created a "cap" over the whole of Greece. The lack of wind is preventing the hot air from going up, thus keeping the pollutants at low heights. The meteorologist states that the phenomenon is common. In his opinion, winds will intensify by the afternoon hours on Monday and the weather will significantly change.

Air pollution experts in turn explain that, under these conditions, the formation of smog is unavoidable. "As per the European regulations, the amount of 50 micrograms of pollutants per cubic metre of air can be exceeded for a period of 35 days a year. Over the past years, the number of deviations reported in some regions in Athens and Thessaloniki has even reached 100 per year. 2012 was the first year when this requirement was met," states Yiannis Ziomas, a teacher at the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Polytechnic School of Athens and a member of the advisory committee to the Ministry of Environment.

The Ministry of Health warns that smog is particularly dangerous for people with health problems. "The small particles cause intense irritation in breathing and worsen the existing illness in people suffering from asthma, emphysema, chronic respiratory problems, heart diseases in young children and the elderly," states the specialist in respiratory diseases and a teacher at the Faculty of Public Health at Harvard University, Panagiotis Behrakis. He said that the number of representatives of these groups is high, about 15-20% of the total population. "Furthermore, the PM-10 particulates, which are solid particles smaller than 10 microns in diameter, penetrate deep into the respiratory tract and induce inflammatory responses."

"Long-term exposure to PM -10 particulates may sometimes cause lung cancer," states Behrakis. In addition to the particles, the burning wood in fireplaces emits carbon monoxide which is a powerful blood poison. "It takes the place of oxygen in the haemoglobin and prevents the transportation of oxygen to the tissues." The professor urges the Greeks not to use fireplaces, especially on days when there is a risk of concentration of air pollution.

Tags: SocietySmogAir pollutionFireplacesRespiratory diseases
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