New pollution worries

While Athens has to a large extent got rid of the brownish-gray smog that smothered much of the city center during the 1980s, a new and potentially more dangerous generation of airborne pollution is clogging up Athenians’ lungs, according to the latest government figures made public yesterday. The worst public health hazards are posed by airborne particles and benzene, according to the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Ministry’s report for 2003. At most monitoring points, the concentration of a specific type of airborne particle – PM 10, or particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter – was frequently well over safety levels. For the time being, finer particles are not being monitored. Even parts of the Greater Athens area that ought not to be affected by pollution, such as the summit of Mount Pendeli on the capital’s northern fringes, have high levels of airborne particles. During the August 13-29 Olympics, scientists from the National Observatory’s Institute for Environmental Studies (IES) recorded concentrations of even 200 micrograms of PM 10 per cubic meter of air. The safety threshold is 50 micrograms per cubic meter, which should not be exceeded on more than 35 days per year. The most dangerous pollutant in the capital’s skies is benzene, which can cause leukemia. According to IES Director Michalis Petrakis, benzene levels are becoming uncomfortably high. «The levels of benzene recorded in Athens are above the limits set by the European Union,» he told Kathimerini. «We have reached the conclusion that the conditions are now such in the capital as to allow high concentrations of the pollutant.» Nitrogen oxides, which are mainly produced by car engines, also present a problem as, despite the fact that most of the cars in use in Athens are fitted with catalytic convertors, the sheer increase in vehicle numbers has kept concentrations of these pollutants high. Poor maintenance of catalytic convertors further exacerbates the situation. And where nitrogen oxide levels are low, yet another pollutant, ozone – which is dispersed by car exhaust fumes – is plentiful.

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