Natural gas and anti-pollutant technology could clean up some 800 industries in Attica

Athens’s smog could be considerably reduced at a reasonable cost, according to a survey by 64 Greek scientists into the application of modern technologies and the use of natural gas at medium-sized and large industries in Attica. Today, the effects of pollution from these industries currently cost 211 million euros a year; an attempt to reduce the emission of these pollutants would cost just 56 million. The only thing needed is the political will. The researchers found that airborne particles (PM10) could be reduced by 29 percent, sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 13 percent, nitrogen oxide (NO) by 18 percent, carbon dioxide (CO2) by 8 percent and volatile organic compounds (VOC) by 13 percent. The total investment cost is estimated at 56-58 million euros, with a possible public cost of 12-18 million. The survey, which lasted two years, by the Athens Observatory with the cooperation of two research firms (EPEM and LDK), did not come out of the blue. Law 3325/2005 on sustainable development in Attica specifies that industries must not increase their pollution emissions but are obliged to implement the best available techniques (BAT) within five years. These techniques comprise a series of actions ranging from a reduction in energy consumption and the use of fuel with fewer emissions (in Attica all factories must use natural gas where available), reduced water consumption, liquid waste management and changes to production methods, to the use of anti-pollutant technology, such as various filters. According to chemical engineer Elena Georgopoulou, a researcher at the observatory, these techniques are documented and classified by the European Union. (There is a special EU office in Seville for this purpose.) The research group chose to study 800 of the 9,000 medium-sized and large industries in Attica. According to Nikos Gargoulas, emissions from these 800 are particularly high, comprising 57 percent of all PM10, 54 percent of SO2, 41 percent of VOC, 29 percent of CO2 and 9 percent of NO. They also worked out the financial cost of industrial pollution. «The 211 million we arrived at is a conservative estimate, and there is always the question of whether human life and the environment can be evaluated in economic terms,» said Sevastianos Mirasgentis, a researcher at the conservatory. The cost is mostly to public health (67 percent), climate, farming and the ecosystem. Researchers examined a proposal to impose a tax on emissions of micro-particles, for example, to persuade factory owners to take steps to protect the environment and also to fund best techniques. «It is particularly important,» said Dimitris Lalas, head of the observatory team, «that we established a very important analysis tool which should be used in other towns and abroad.» Hard for smaller factories «It is not easy for a factory to abide by the law,» said the head of the Greek Chemical Industries’ Federation, Panayiotis Skarlatos. «The legislative framework is already difficult. There are about 550 laws applying to us at European level, let alone in Greek law,» he said. «It is the duty of each factory to protect the environment,» he added. His view is that European law is in the right direction, but is skeptical about the law on sustainable development in Attica. «In Europe, they are aimed at major industries. In Greece, we are about to apply best available techniques (BAT) in all factories, irrespective of size. The bigger units are quite different from the smaller ones. We should have special techniques for Greece, but who will do it?» he said. Georgopoulou observed that techniques established at European level refer to sectors, irrespective of size. «If we exclude the many small factories that create a large amount of pollution, it will not be enough to reduce smog,» she said. Skarlatos raised the issue of competitiveness. «Why should a business in Athens have to pay more than one in Larissa or Rome?» he asked, although adding that he was in favor of subsidies to help medium-sized and smaller industries meet the cost of adapting to the new laws.