NEWS

Untreated wastewater and agricultural runoff plague Greek coastland

The main problem in Greece is the untreated release of municipal waters into the Saronic Gulf and of agricultural runoff (pesticides and fertilizers) from the country’s many streams and rivers into the Mediterranean, according to a report approved by Greek authorities in 2003 and invoked at the Malta summit. Pesticides used in agricultural activities – which have increased significantly in Greece over the past years – are believed to have caused particular damage to Lake Kopais, the Argolid plain, the Pineios River in Ileia and the plain of Thessaly. But pollution from agriculture also reaches the coastline via river estuaries. Informing Greek farmers of new agricultural practices would help reduce the quantity and intensity of toxic substances flowing into the Mediterranean, according to the report. These substances are also a threat to the country’s wetlands (sites that serve as shelters and food sources for many species). «The delta of the River Evros is one of the region’s most endangered wetlands, mostly due to runoff from fertilizers from nearby agricultural activity,» UNEP MAP’s Athens-based Program Officer Fouad Abousamra said. The report highlighted the most worrying «hot spots» for coastal pollution in Greece as the bay of Elefsina, due to the high concentration of industry in western Attica – specifically in the areas of Elefsina, Aspropyrgos and Mandra – which discharge most of their wastewater untreated into the Saronic Gulf. The Saronic Gulf is another «hot spot» due to the hundreds of thousands of tons of sludge stored at the new biological waste-processing plant on the islet of Psyttaleia. (The government’s plans to «dry» the sludge before disposal have been met with skepticism by environmentalists but are compliant with EU directives and UNEP MAP guidelines). According to the report, the pollution of the Saronic Gulf is aggravated by occasional illegal connections to the sewerage system, resulting in the discharge of toxic substances through the outfall pipe of Psyttaleia into the Saronic Gulf. It is also noted that the seawater off Psyttaleia and Keratsini contains a high presence of heavy metals whose impact can be seen in high levels of copper and zinc in mussels. UNEP MAP highlights the fact that many coastal towns in eastern Attica, such as Rafina, have no waste treatment facility and stresses that plans by the Athens Water and Sewage Company (EYDAP) to create a waste treatment plant are vital to prevent further pollution of the Gulf of Evia. And it expresses concern over the proliferation of uncontrolled dumping sites across the country, especially near the coast which, it concedes, are very difficult to regulate. Earlier this week, the European Commission sent Greece a final warning over the environmental and health risks posed by the now-defunct Kouroupitos landfill site near Hania that the government was supposed to have cleared. And just two days ago, the European Court warned Greece to close down six companies for polluting the regions of the Elefsina Gulf and Thriassio plain.