Elefsina rising to challenge of ecological regeneration

An ambitious program aimed at changing the face of one of Greece’s most degraded areas – Elefsina – is under way in a joint venture by local government agencies, the port authority, universities, environmental organizations and major industries. Aimed at making major changes by 2020, the LIFE environment program is titled «Cooperative Environmental Rebirth in Port Cities.» Despite a visible improvement in recent years, Elefsina’s environment continues to be under considerable pressure because of pollution from industries and the port. According to a study by the pollution and environmental quality control bureau of the Thriassio Local Government Development Association, while concentrations of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are now below the limits set by the European Union, concentrations of ozone occasionally overshoot the mark; also high are levels of airborne particles. Although two years ago local residents were officially informed that it was once again safe to swim in the sea, industrial effluent continues to pollute the marine environment. At the same time, people’s quality of life has been adversely affected by the reduction in the amount of open space and restrictions on access to the coast. So the «integrated approach» being advanced through the LIFE program has led to hopes for real change in the atmosphere of the town. It includes improvements to the port in accordance with the principles of the LIFE Environmental Management System (including the proper treatment of solid and liquid waste, controls on levels of noise and atmospheric pollution). In order to minimize pollution from the transport of dangerous cargoes on land and sea, a special system of risk recognition and monitoring through the use of telematics will be implemented. LIFE also provides for improvements to environmental conditions in the town and more access routes to the seafront via pedestrian precincts, the refurbishment of public spaces, and tree planting. Innovations include setting up negotiation committees to plan future activities and to monitor works in progress along with members of the public. At a press conference last week, the SOS Mediterranean Network’s president, Nikos Chrysogelos, said the program was an opportunity for Elefsina to change its image from that of a polluted and degraded environment and to set an example as a successful environmental restoration project with the participation of all concerned. The program is being co-funded by the European Commission, the Elefsina Port Authority, the Prefectural Government of Western Attica, the municipalities of Elefsina and Aspropyrgos, the SOS Mediterranean Network, and the National Technical University’s Urban Environment Workshop. Industries such as Titan, the Halyvourgiki Steelworks and the Skaramanga Shipyards are also pitching in. However, in the recently approved general town plan, 260 hectares of farmland have been reclassified. «The coastline may have been occupied for decades by industries, but at least the hinterland was still farmland, mainly olive groves. But now these will be cut down to make way for warehouses,» said Dinos Rousis, a member of Elefsina’s citizens’ committee.

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