NEWS

High concentrations in Greek cities

Concentrations of benzene on Greek streets are far lower than those recorded in the Chinese factory but far above European Union permitted limits, which (being much stricter than US regulations) demand that levels must fall by 5 micrograms per cubic meter by 2010. The interim permitted level is 10mcg/cubic meter. Measurements in Athens yield concentrations of 12-13 mcg/cubic meter. But benzene is carcinogenic even in smaller concentrations, as Michalis Petrakis of the Athens Observatory’s Environment Institute says. The Chinese experiment backs him up. The primary cause of rising levels of benzene in the atmosphere of major Greek cities is traffic congestion and the excessive numbers of automobiles, hundreds of thousands of which have damaged catalytic converters that spew out benzene and other pollutants. The National Technical University of Athens has estimated that at least 200,000 cars with unsuitable converters are on the roads without undergoing any meaningful inspection. Any car with a deactivated converter emits 10 times as much benzene as an old car with the conventional technology that was replaced in order to combat smog. The situation is even more dangerous in places where gasoline is processed, stored and transported, and in factories that use benzene, which should be regularly inspected for benzene concentrations and special measures taken to protect workers. Measurements taken recently by Athens University scientists Anastassios Soldatos, Evangelos Bakeas and Panayiotis Siskos showed that concentrations of benzene at gas stations exceed permitted limits even to the point where emergency measures should be taken. Moreover, benzene at gas stations affects not only workers and their customers but neighbors. In particular, where gas stations are located in the basement or the ground floor of apartment blocks, there are serious hazards for residents. Unfortunately, there are 130 such gas stations in Athens and 120 in Thessaloniki.