Washing the Kifissos’s dirty linen in public

One of the most important sculptures in the British Museum is a mutilated statue of the classical period from the pediment of the Parthenon and representing the god Kifissos. In recent years, Greeks have – through their actions and omissions – mutilated the capital city’s only river. The Kifissos today has no divine dimension; it has become the most vulnerable part of Attica. Though its sources are supposedly protected, it continues to be encroached upon and polluted. The actions of the State and the public have turned the river’s course toward Faliron into a drain, a trash dump and a high-speed road. Those whose job it is to protect the river are, if not incompetent, then indifferent to the extent of the damage being done. And they hope that construction of the hydraulic and road works project will get rid of all the illegal pipelines discharging hazardous waste into the riverbed. Otherwise, it will become the biggest sewer in the Attic basin, with unpredictable effects on public health. Last week construction workers on the Kifissos project had to down tools because of the unbearable stench. The smell of feces hung over the town of Moschato, and the local authorities called in the inspectors from the Public Works Ministry. The report came out two days later: Work on deepening the riverbed had stirred up old waste that had been rotting for some time, revealing what lay beneath the turbid water. In fact, the Kifissos, and to a certain extent its counterpart the Ilissos, have become key drains from Athens. Waste from many factories that operate alongside the river, trash from local residents (especially during the long strike by municipal garbage collectors a month ago) and other unwanted objects such as plastic bags, used oil and oil products from nearby businesses (factories, workshops and tanneries) in Rendi, Moschato and Tavros all reach the river by way of illegal drainpipes. They either end up in the sea or, in the case of solid waste, stay on the riverbed and rot. Partial coverage of the river by the road being built from Pireos Street to Faliron is expected to make matters worse. Even without being closed, as it is for most of its length, the uncovered river is vulnerable to all kinds of pollution and is at risk of being transformed into a dump for liquid and solid waste. In fact the stagnant water that never sees the sun might even turn into a swamp, which will be home to unique flora and fauna, since the original varieties vanished long ago, even at the source of the river which was protected by a presidential decree during the term of former Environment Minister Costas Laliotis. Even migratory birds that still visit the area, following their primeval instincts, have been found dead. Sources of pollution Kathimerini discovered a series of factors which contribute to pollution of the river: – Industrial waste from factories alongside the Kifissos, which should be discharged into the sewage system and channeled to the waste processing plant at Psyttaleia. The water utility, EYDAP, only sets the terms and conditions for processing waste before it is discharged into the system. – Colored water – in the most extraordinary shades of red, green and yellow – and foam on the surface of the river reveal frequent infringements of the law. Many businesses have illegal tanks that discharge unprocessed waste into the Kifissos, either directly or by means of the rainfall drainage system. – In order to deal with infringements, there must first be a complaint. In most cases, however, the culprits are never caught because the phenomenon has disappeared by the time the inspectors arrive on the scene. – EYDAP, prefectures and municipalities are unable to police the situation and they shift the blame elsewhere. An EYDAP official told Kathimerini that «responsibility for inspecting the rainfall drainage system did not lie with the utility but with the Ministry for the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE), and the prefectures.» However, municipalities and prefectures in the area apply to EYDAP for advice, to which it responds. Moreover, two documents in the possession of Kathimerini, which come from the Health Directorate of Athens Prefectures, Piraeus Prefecture and other municipalities in the area, are addressed to EYDAP. N. Pediou, the manager of EYDAP’s drainage system, acknowledges this inability himself in a letter he wrote on March 14 to Deputy YPEHODE Minister G. Yiannis Tsakalidis about another pollution incident, in which he says: «…unfortunately, it was not possible to locate the source of pollution because the flow of colored water had already stopped.» And he added: «At different points of the covered part of the river are the outlets of rainwater collectors which connect to secondary branches, creating a wide network which extends to the areas of Moschato, Kallithea, Tavros and Petralona […] Thus it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the location at which pollutants are discharged into the river unless there is specific information to guide the investigation of our work teams, or else we manage to catch the incident in progress…» – The culprits naturally do not inform the authorities before they discharge waste into the Kifissos and the Ilissos. They do it unexpectedly, at night or over the weekend, when Greek public services are closed. The favorite time for businesses that purposely discharge waste into the river is on rainy days. The river rises far higher than is justified by the level of rainfall, and the water takes on some surprising colors. Even EYDAP – Even EYDAP itself uses the Kifissos, especially the covered section, as a drainpipe. Urban and industrial waste are discharged into the river and are redirected into the sewage system a few meters further on. What happens during a flood when the river rises and waste cannot be separated off? According to an EYDAP official, «the flow and the volume of water is so high that it dilutes the human and industrial waste and pollution levels are below the set limits.» Meanwhile, many residents have suspicions that EYDAP uses the Kifissos for its pumping station in the Faliron-Moschato area that channels waste to Psyttaleia. They have been trying to prove that when there are power cuts in the area, waste is discharged into the Kifissos to prevent the pumping station from overflowing. Investigation of this problem has shown the inability of the Greek State to impose rules, and the complete indifference of citizens toward protection of the environment in which they live. It also revealed, and not for the first time, the labyrinth of Greek public administration and the inability of various services to coordinate. Kathimerini spoke to chief environmental inspector Margarita Karavassili, who said the Kifissos will be a priority for the newly formed organization, which has yet to get its own offices. A team of inspectors will start looking at the Kifissos soon, and the massive problem of encroachment on it. The team will examine why the much-discussed fines have never been imposed on trespassers or polluters. Even groups such as the Attica Ecological Campaign that has often clashed with public administrators, hope that the inspectors will play a significant role. All that remains to be done is translate words into deeds.