Geologists oppose plans for sewage plant in Mesogeia

Plans for a new waste treatment plant to be built on the northern Mesogeia plain have met with protests. The plant, or Waste Processing Center (KEL), will serve the needs of nearly half a million people in the summer of 2040, according to the Athens Water Supply and Sewage Company (EYDAP). Some doubt estimates about where the sludge will go and how much there will be, whether it is to be dumped into the Bay of Evia, and the fate of unprocessed industrial waste. The situation on the fast-developing Mesogeia plain, where construction has burgeoned in recent years, is rapidly becoming chaotic with regard to the disposal of industrial and household waste. The problem calls for a comprehensive, expert approach to waste management that transcends the customary practice of refusing to accept anything that might lower the value of one’s property, as well as the practice of tossing one’s garbage into the next-door neighbor’s yard. EYDAP’s decision to build the plant – which will serve the municipalities of Kropia, Paiania, Spata, Anthousa, Geraka, Glyka Nera, Pendeli, Pallini, Pikermi, Artemis, Rafina, Nea Makri and Marathon – has met with opposition with regard to the site proposed at Platy Horafi in the municipality of Spata, and to the standard of the environmental study. Prefectural councilor Christiana Frangou has appealed to the Council of State, the country’s highest court, to have the environmental study annulled. However it is not local residents who are objecting to the choice of site, as might be expected, but geologists’ associations, because of its close proximity of Pikermi, a world-famous geological site that has even given its name to a geological period. Fossils of 40 different animal species going back 6.5 million years have been found there. The Greek Geological Society and the Institute of Geological Studies are just two of the groups that have raised objections to the plant’s site, which is also close to Megalo Rema, near Rafina, recognized by ministerial decree as of unique environmental interest, and just a few hundred meters from settlements such as Vounopouli and Aghia Kyriaki. The Prefectural Committee for Town Planning and the Environment had rejected the initial approval for the site in 1998, a decision that has been ignored. According to the environmental study, meanwhile, much of the processed waste will be disposed of in the Gulf of Evia via twin pipes on Cape Velani in the municipality of Artemis (Loutsa), with a capacity of one cubic meter a second. According to chemical engineer Solon Zarkanitis, the study underestimates the quantities that will flow into the sea, since the estimate is only for the one pipe. Zarkanitis said he thinks the model used by those who drafted the environmental study was not appropriate for evaluating the dilution of the pollutants in the sea. «They used the Visual Plumes program from the US Environmental Protection Service, which is only suitable for oceans and has no provisions for a coastline,» he said. Meanwhile, there are strong currents off the Loutsa coast (as is evident from the age-old sand dunes in the area) that have a tendency to drive pollution toward the land. T. Yiannakopoulou, assistant professor of hydraulic engineering at Thrace University, says it’s unlikely there won’t be negative effects on the sea. The joint ministerial decision on the KEL does not characterize the Gulf of Evia as a «sensitive receptor,» which EYDAP is claiming after the event, although not in official documents. Zarkanitis calls it a «crime» to dump this water into the sea rather than recycle it, particularly since Attica is getting water from as far away as the Mornos River in central Greece. «Normally, all sewage should be processed a third time and be used for irrigation, artificial lakes and reforestation on Mt Hymettus, in order to enrich the water table,» he said. «All water should be recycled. But the environmental study makes no provision for a third processing of all waste.» Other objections include the risk of unprocessed industrial waste entering the pipes from local businesses. In a region where industries dispose of carcinogenic chromium in wells, the environmental study makes no provision for monitoring the indices that measure the chemical load, which would reveal any problems with dangerous toxic waste. Christos Malliaros, who designs counter-pollution installations, says special installations for dealing with industrial and other dangerous waste should have been provided for. These are not the only omissions in the environmental study. There is no evaluation of the expected quantities of sludge resulting from the sewage processing or what is to be done with it. According to Yiannakopoulou, there is a «lack of clarity regarding the place where the sewage by-products are to go and the way they are to be disposed of.» There are no provisions for emergencies, nor any compliance with European Directive 96/61 on integrated pollution prevention systems. Given all of the above, the KEL will not provide a solution to the problem of raw sewage, but will probably just pass it on to another level.