NEWS

Fish contaminated with heavy metals

Two years after large amounts of heavy metals – well in excess of permitted levels – were found in the sea near the island of Schiza, the authorities have still shown no sign of concern. While there is every indication that the source of the pollution is the firing range the air force has maintained on Schiza – which lies off the western tip of the Peloponnese – since the late 1970s, the Defense Ministry says it is not possible to close or move the range. On May 5, 2003, the Prefectural Council of Messinia unanimously voted to request the closure of the Schiza firing range and – jointly with the municipality of Methoni – to assign a study to investigate the extent of the environmental effects on the sea around the island. Opposition since 1995 The Schiza firing range, which airplanes use for practice, first roused opposition in 1995 from the inhabitants of Foinikounta on the opposite shore. Daily firing by planes onto the range and into the sea surrounding the island were discouraging visitors and hindering the development of tourism in Foinikounta. But it was in 2001 that people realized that the problem was even graver. Residents of Foinikounta discovered that the livers of fish caught in the bay were jet black. The Messinia Citizens’ Movement sent samples for examination to a laboratory in Italy and also to the General Chemical State Laboratory (GCSL). The results showed concentrations of heavy metals that far exceeded the limits permitted by the European Union. One sample examined at the GCSL had a 13.6mg/kg concentration of lead, when the permitted limit is 0.4 mg/kg, and a 0.07 mg/kg concentration of cadmium, against the permitted level of 0.05 mg/kg. As there are no other sources of pollution in the area and the entire seabed is strewn with projectiles containing large quantities of heavy metals, both residents and the scientists they approached believe the firing range is the cause of the pollution. According to Nikos Savakis, a member of the Messinia Citizens’ Movement, «The islets of Schiza, Aghia Marina and Sapientza are included in the Natura network, and they should be protected.» Yet nobody in authority has shown any interest. Heavy metals are a serious health hazard. Experts attribute the rising incidence of diseases such as cancer, type A diabetes and thyroid ailments to the effects of chronic pollution, which weakens the immune system. Heavy metals are not easily eliminated from the system. Lead affects the functioning of the brain, bones and nervous system. Mercury affects the central nervous system, causes fatigue and affects the kidneys. Cadmium raises blood pressure, causes emphysema, anemia and histological changes and affects the kidneys. Local residents approached the prefecture of Messinia and the municipality of Methoni to get more measurements taken and an environmental survey done. But they kept getting the same answer: No funds were available for the survey. When MP Sophia Kalantzakou asked a similar question, the Defense Ministry replied on March 14, 2003 that «the Defense Ministry, which is sensitive to the whole community, has set a minimum limit on plane flights, so as not to adversely affect operations, to take into account the concerns and needs of local residents and to avoid affecting residential areas. Existing firing ranges just meet air force needs, so it is not possible to close any of them, including that of Schiza.»