Dozens of decisions, zero results

Seven years ago, although a decision had been made to set up a drying plant on Psyttaleia, the environment and public works minister, Costas Laliotis, funded the construction of a composting plant in Ano Liosia. Today, the drying plant has still not been completed, while thousands of bags of sludge continue to pile up on the islet – the surplus, and what has not yet been sent to Germany. After the primary treatment plant was completed in 1994, 60 percent of the waste was deposited as sludge and 40 percent was treated wastewater released into the sea. However, in 1996, the ministry assigned the management of Psyttaleia to EYDAP, and the complications began. Work on a secondary treatment plant began in 1998 with an initial budget of 128 million euros; the six supplementary contacts that followed raised the total cost to 202 million euros. In 1999, EYDAP signed an agreement with ESDKNA to move the dehydrated and dried sludge to Ano Liosia at a cost of 5,000 drachmas (14.67 euros) a ton, annually adjusted to the inflation rate. In 2000, Laliotis provided funds for the construction of a composting plant in Ano Liosia. The following year, the prime minister, Costas Simitis, opened a biogas plant at Psyttaleia at a cost of 100 billion drachmas. In 2003, the sludge was being transported to Ano Liosia until March, when the collapse of a mountain of waste halted transportation temporarily. The ministry began construction of the drying plant, which would reduce the volume of sludge by two-thirds, providing fuel for Public Power Corporation plants and the cement industry. In November of that year, amid fears of a new collapse at Ano Liosia, ESDKNA again temporarily halted the transport of sludge. Residents of Perama, opposite Psyttaleia, staged demonstrations over the stench coming from the islet. In 2004, as Athens entered the final lap of the race to prepare for the Olympics, Piraeus Prefect Yiannis Michas threatened to revoke Psyttaleia’s operating license when the total amount of accumulated sludge reached 80,000 tons. In July, transport to Ano Liosia resumed. After completion of the secondary treatment plant, only 5 percent of the treated waste was now flowing into the Saronic Gulf waters. After the Games, local authorities found that another 90,000 tons of toxic waste had been added to the existing 80,000 tons. Local residents once again staged protests and EYDAP’s reaction was to disinfect the sludge with lime and other chemicals to mask the unpleasant odor. Over the next two years, dozens of decisions, counter-decisions, rulings, warnings, lawsuits and assurances were issued. In September 2006, faced with the risk of the sludge sliding into the sea, EYDAP again decided to treat it with lime and to store it in bags. Already 100,000 tons had been sent to Germany. In May, Michas had written to EU Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas calling Psyttaleia a «volcano about to explode» due to the 300,000 tons of toxic sludge stored there, not to mention the stench that forced Pireots to close their windows. At the end of the year, EYDAP officials gave the assurance that treatment with lime was neutralizing the sludge and removing the smell and that therefore there was no particular reason for concern. This article appeared in the February 4 edition of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.