Experts warn of pollution in areas hit by Attica wildfires

Experts warn of pollution in areas hit by Attica wildfires

As a judicial investigation into last month’s catastrophic wildfires in parts of Attica gathers pace, experts have warned of toxic pollution in the areas affected by the blazes.

In comments to Kathimerini, Dimosthenis Sarigiannis, professor of environmental engineering at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University, said residents returning to Mati, Neos Voutzas and Rafina – the areas worst affected by the blazes – should wear surgical masks and rubber gloves when cleaning their homes and keep their stays there as short as possible.

Volunteers helping in the areas should take similar precautions, he said.

“We did not simply have a wildfire in a forest,” he said.

“Cars were burned, gas tanks exploded, fuel was ignited and homes, construction material, plastics torched,” he said.

“All this released a plethora of dangerous toxic substances such as dioxins, furans, heavy metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons,” he added, noting that all these chemicals have seeped into the ground.

Ash and other waste swept up from the ground during cleaning should not be disposed of in municipal trash dumpsters but bagged and handed over to municipal authorities who will dispose of them in an appropriate manner for toxic waste, Sarigiannis said.

Experts from Aristotle University’s environmental engineering laboratory are to start systematic research on pollution in the areas worst affected by the fires later this week.

“We are not scaremongering but we must definitely seek to protect ourselves,” Sarigiannis said.

Meanwhile an investigation into last month’s blazes, which killed 91 people and ravaged thousands of hectares of forestland, is gathering pace.

Supreme Court prosecutor Xeni Dimitriou and top Athens prosecutor Ilias Zagoraios, who is overseeing the investigation, visited the scene of Mati, in eastern Attica, last Friday for a six-hour inspection.

The probe is not only focusing on the cause of the blazes or the illegal construction in the affected areas.

Zagoraios has asked for details of recorded exchanges between fire service and police officials on the night of July 23, which appear to point to a series of shortfalls and deficient strategy.

Meanwhile dozens of witnesses are being interviewed every day in an attempt to build a comprehensive picture of the events of July 23.

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