Cold snap raises concerns of smog from heating fuels

A sudden cold snap that has seen temperatures drop across Greece in the past few days has sent Environment Ministry officials scrambling to adopt measures that will encourage households to use more environmentally friendly forms of fuel.

Their concerns come after last winter, which was relatively mild, saw a huge spike in smog levels in large cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki, where cash-strapped households opted for cheaper forms of heating and especially fireplaces, as the cost of firewood is significantly below natural gas – a relative newcomer on the Greek market – and heating oil, which is the most widely used fuel for heating.

The season for the sale of heating oil, meanwhile, starts on October 15, but sellers are not optimistic that they will do much better this year than last, when a tax hike more than doubled its cost, resulting in a 70 percent drop in demand.

There is also some confusion regarding the payment of heating oil subsidies to impoverished households, with sources saying that just 8 million euros of the 260-million-euro subsidy was absorbed last year, suggesting that there are glitches in the system that will have to be ironed out.

Environment Ministry officials are also planning to increase inspections on heating products to ensure that they are operate within the eco-friendly boundaries outlined by law after 100 spot checks on 60 different products last year found 60 percent to be in violation.

Meanwhile, concerns about how Greeks will stay warm this winter are especially acute following several deaths last year due to smoke inhalation, including two students in Larissa, central Greece, who were burning a charcoal grill indoors for heat.

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