Greek towns worst in Europe for pollution

The 10 European cities displaying the highest concentration of air pollution particles (PM10) include six Greek ones, with Thessaloniki and Athens topping the list, according to data made public this week by the environmental group Greenpeace. The level of pollution was calculated according to the number of days in 2001 during which the limit of 50mg/m3 was exceeded. Greece appears to have excelled in this area, with the towns of Larissa and Patras taking third and fourth place respectively in the list of the 10 cities with the highest levels of atmospheric pollution, according to Greenpeace. Following Monday’s statement by Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias – that the government would not lift a ban on the circulation of diesel-powered passenger cars in Athens and Thessaloniki – the environmental group warned that lifting the ban would increase atmospheric pollution and related illnesses. Indeed, according to a study conducted by the epidemiology department of the Athens Medical School, we would have 5,066 fewer deaths in Athens every year if the average level of PM10 air pollution particles were to fall below 20mg/m3, a significant drop from its current level of 52.12mg/m3. The same applies for smaller air pollution particles (known as PM2.5), according to the study, which shows that there would be 2,704 fewer deaths per year if the current level of 24mg/m3 were to fall below 15mg/m3. Such a reduction would add about a year to the life expectancy of every Athenian, according to the study. Meanwhile, advocates of diesel power have been presenting a series of arguments, ostensibly for the protection of the environment, that have been vehemently opposed by Greenpeace. And indeed, there has been significant improvement in the technology of diesel-powered vehicles, which now emit between five and 10 times less noxious fumes. Nevertheless, the achievement of the desired goal, which is to further curb pollution, is still far off, Greenpeace insists. Diesel-powered vehicles emit a far greater amount of inhalable airborne particles than gasoline-consuming vehicles of the same engine size but those who champion diesel power insist that modern technology can alleviate this problem. But to do so, it would be necessary for a vehicle to have a catalytic converter and a filter to contain airborne particles inside the diesel-powered engine, which goes against another argument of diesel power advocates – that of reduced fuel consumption, Greenpeace says. «The catalytic converter and the airborne particles filter that limit pollution emissions increase fuel consumption by around 15 percent,» says environmentalist Stelios Psomas, who carried out the study for Greenpeace. Greenpeace has also highlighted the lack of inspections, reiterating that more than one-third of the cars on Greek roads do not have a certificate showing that they have passed the state’s compulsory annual emissions test. Meanwhile, a large proportion of the cars whose emissions are tested exceed the limit. It is important to note that the proportion of diesel-powered passenger cars in our country (as in Japan and the USA) is relatively low, with just 1 percent of cars running on diesel, as compared to an EU average of 45 percent. However, the high level of atmospheric pollution in Athens and Thessaloniki necessitated the ban on diesel-powered vehicles to ensure that the situation is not made worse.