Athens University rings the environmental alarm bell

Whenever the professor diverged from the text he was reading to the audience, his message carried a surprise. «They talk about threats to the environment, but it is we who are under threat,» said Dimitris Mavrakis, an associate professor and director of the Energy Policy and Development Center, speaking Wednesday at the last session of a conference on «environmental management through research and teaching at the University of Athens.» «However many forests we burn, the mountains will stay in place, the forests will regenerate but we will have lost a great deal. I have also heard,» he continued, «that Greece will face problems in the future due to its lack of environmental protection. Well, I’m sorry, but Greece is already facing problems. If you don’t believe it, the next time you have a salad, think about what water was used to irrigate the lettuce and how many agricultural chemicals are in it. Cancer is rife in the provinces because of those substances.» Though the state seems unaware of the issue, at least Athens University has for years confronted the problem head-on through research conducted by various departments. That was made clear at the conference, where professors reported on their environment-related projects. Anyone looking out the window at the same time could see the traffic congestion of Athens. «You need a mask to get around downtown at midday,» commented one academic who frequents the cleaner environs of the university campus. It is known, as Anna Karakatsani, associate professor of pneumonology, noted, that the slightest increase in airborne particles is reflected in increased hospital admissions. Research has shown that an increase of 10mg/m3 in PM10 leads to a daily mortality increase of 0.6 percent, and a 1 percent increase in hospital admissions for respiratory problems. Water is also subject to pollution. «In the past 50 years, we have been deluged with tons of chemical substances,» said Associate Professor Polyxeni Nikopoulou-Stamati, head of the health and environment postgraduate program.