Hazardous garbage

A garbage dump near the towns of Karystos and Marmari on the island of Evia is posing a major threat to the health of local residents. Thousands of complaints have been made over the fires that break out regularly at the tip, spreading a toxic cloud over the district. The dump is not filled with earth, nor are basic safety regulations adhered to. Nor does any solution appear to be forthcoming in the near future, since a study on the construction of a waste management plant, carried out after complaints from local residents, was rejected. A second study has not been completed. About 3 kilometers from the the town of Karystos, the dumping of garbage from Karystos and Marmari began about 20 years ago at a site called Koutikas. It is now one of the 1,453 illegal garbage dumps operating around the country pending the construction of waste management plants (XYTA). Dozens of people living around Plakari, Alamanaika, Theatroupoli and Livadaki, as revealed to Kathimerini, have complained that fires break out regularly at the site. «The atmosphere is so bad that we cannot open our windows (when these fires are burning),» said Ilias Antoniadis, a local resident. «During the last fire, on July 7, the smoke was blown as far as Rafina.» Local people are also worried about their health. «Every time the rubbish catches fire, children start vomiting and on one occasion required hospitalization,» said Neilos Mouschouris. «We suffer headaches and breathing difficulties and sometimes our skin secretes an oily substance.» «Any ordinary garbage dump produces methane, which has a strong smell, depending on the organic load,» said Nikos Haralambidis, director of the Greek branch of Greenpeace. «When garbage burns, large quantities of dioxins are produced. The risk is not so much from the effect on the respiratory tract, but from the substances that accumulate in the body through the food chain, particularly in animals. If livestock waste is dumped at the site, very dangerous pathogens are released into the atmosphere when this is burned.» According to a complaint from a local farmer, corpses of animals as well as the contents of cesspits are dumped at the site. According to some local residents, the fires are lit by the mayor of Karystos to reduce the volume of waste (an illegal practice according to fire department regulations). Mayor Theodoros Karykas emphatically denies these charges, attributing them to the interests of a small group of residents. «The people making these accusations bought cheap land and built houses near the dump, which they now want closed,» he said. But Haralambidis says garbage dumps can ignite spontaneously. «But the issue here is not whether a fire starts by itself or with outside help,» he said. «Once started, it is very difficult to extinguish, as it burns steadily.» A team from the Environment and Public Works Ministry’s special environmental inspection service recently visited Karystos and confirmed the violations of the law in official letters to the Prefecture of Evia and recommended the municipality be fined 5,000 euros. According to their report, the garbage dump is neither marked nor guarded and is not completely fenced in. The municipality does not control the flow of rainwater runoff from the site, nor has it drafted a plan for dealing with emergencies. Deputy Prefect Antonis Korozis admits there is a problem. «Unfortunately, many municipalities in Greece burn their garbage. Nevertheless, I cannot consent a priori to every state recommendation to impose a fine, because I have seen they are very strict in some cases and not in others. Creating waste management plants, however, not imposing fines, is the solution.»