The dubious operation of wastewater treatment plants

Just 11 years ago, under pressure from the European Union, Greece «discovered» wastewater treatment plants as a means of preventing untreated waste from reaching the sea, lakes and rivers. Today, we have managed to establish these plants for about half of the country’s population, but we do not know which ones are actually functioning or how well. According to Andreadakis, in the past 20 years there has been a considerable improvement in the management of urban waste. «Half the country’s population is covered by wastewater treatment plants,» he claims. Nevertheless, by 2000, these plants should have been installed in all areas of over 15,000 residents. In 2003, 70 percent of these areas had them. By 2005, this will be extended to settlements of over 2,000 inhabitants, but 90 percent of those do not have the necessary equipment. The main problem is that even where the plants have been installed, they often are not in operation. «We are not in a position to know which ones are working and which conform to environmental guidelines,» said Andreadakis. «The monitoring system is inefficient, particularly for smaller plants. Their proper operation is entirely up to the conscientiousness of the staff members, rather than due to systematic inspections. At major hotels or businesses, some standards are usually observed although they know that in Greece they could get away with less, as there are internal regulations. Therefore, it is far from certain that the work done over the past 11 years is as effective as it could have been,» he added. In reality, inspections are carried out at the beginning of the tourist season, where in many regions the burden on wastewater treatment plants is not so great. As a result, no complete evaluation of them can be made. Specific allegations of pollution have to be made before any transgressors can be pinpointed. However, businesses often prefer to pay fines rather than go to the trouble of maintaining their plants properly. In addition, «everyone is interested in getting a plant but often people don’t know that running it is an ongoing process» according to Andreadakis. One wonders how official tests of water quality can produce such good results in summer, when pollution of the sea is obvious to everyone. According to Andreadakis, on coastal areas the testing system results in a 98 percent approval rate. «However, because measurements are taken at regular intervals and at specific places, problems that occur between these times or elsewhere might not be traced,» he said. According to the EU’s new directive on sea pollution, the upper safety limits of specific pollutants must be reduced by one quarter, and monitoring systems will have to be installed to cover the entire coastal area. Possible sources of pollution, such as hotels, should be reported, along with details of the condition they are in. At the same time, measures should be taken to deal with emergencies in order to cover the period between scheduled inspections.

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