Athens indoor pollution tops list in Europe

Among the other battles Athenians are required to fight on a daily basis is one more announced by the European Commission recently – the chemical war being waged within the home. The European Research Institute in Ispra, Italy, has pinpointed a complex cocktail of substances – chiefly benzene, asbestos, radon and, naturally, cigarette smoke – that is threatening people’s health and longevity. The results of a survey conducted in a number of European cities, including Athens, Milan and Helsinki, are discouraging, to say the least. Athens is top of the list regarding its citizens’ degree of exposure to these indoor pollutants, let alone those outdoors. The repercussions are often tragic. One in five Europeans suffers from some form of asthma, due precisely to inhaling the air inside buildings, where various toxic and carcinogenic substances have been observed. The problem is not restricted to homes, but schools, offices, restaurants and all kinds of nightclubs, in short, everywhere the average person is likely to spend 80-90 percent of his or her time. The earth’s natural radioactivity rises into buildings and cannot escape into the atmosphere, mainly because of the types of insulation used. Cigarette smoke has a tendency to resist all forms of ventilation, as do emissions of chemical substances used in household appliances, paints and other construction and insulation materials. According to the survey, the result is often double concentrations of toxins, carcinogens and generally deadly substances within buildings compared to outdoors, even where traffic is heavy. Another conclusion is that this situation cannot be dealt with. Despite the various ventilation methods experimented with at Ispra, there was no great reduction in concentrations of these substances, especially cigarette smoke. The dilemma is clear – in Europe, including Athens, in 2003, the air is just as poisonous in one’s living room as it is in Omonia Square, and there seems to be no swift way to deal with the phenomenon, not even by frequently airing one’s home.