Lax disposal of toxic waste draws EU ire

The European Commission is expected to issue a stern warning to Greece today for failing to adequately manage hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic waste produced in the country every year, which is believed to be ending up in landfills. According to the Commission, which first warned Greece about toxic waste in 2005, no measures have been taken to ensure that some 330,000 tons of toxic waste produced every year are safely disposed of. Another 600,000 tons of such waste has been buried in inappropriate locations, chiefly on industrial sites, according to the EC. The EC has highlighted a list of measures that need to be taken to prevent the ongoing environmental damage and the potential health risks posed by piles of festering waste across the country, described by experts as «toxic time bombs.» If Greece fails to take action it faces a large fine. Authorities have been asked to draw up maps showing proposed sites for dumping toxic waste. At the same time, the central government will have to specify the powers each region has for disposing of the waste it produces. Special care must be taken in the case of Attica – which is home to half the country’s population and produces half the country’s toxic waste. One of the main reasons for making each region autonomous in its waste management is to put a stop to the dangerous practice of transporting toxic waste. Another EU requirement is that waste be categorized before it is disposed of. Certain types of waste – like animal waste and polychlorinated biphenyls (used in the manufacture of plastics) – are currently not categorized as dangerous substances. Most of the toxic waste produced in Greece comes from industry, followed by agricultural and hospital waste. In terms of manufacturers, olive and fuel producers create the most waste, followed by iron and steel manufacturers and then chemical producers. According to Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, manufacturers bear the responsibility for disposing of their toxic waste. As regards toxic hospital waste, the ministry has admitted that there is «inadequate infrastructure for the disposal of such waste.» The country only has one unit for the incineration of toxic hospital waste, in Attica. Responding to criticism by European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas last week, Souflias said the government had passed a law in early 2007 on the management of toxic waste, blaming the previous PASOK government for failing to take action up to that point.