Asbestos cleanup in Faliron

The oldest steam-electric power plant in Greece began supplying power in 1896 to the surrounding villas in what was then the seaside resort of Neo Faliron. In the 1920s, along with the Keratsini plant, it supplied the rest of Attica. It closed down in 1983, but only in 2006 did work begin to remove some 960 tons of asbestos from the plant. «The site was deemed to be particularly dangerous because of the asbestos dust in buildings with broken doors and windows, located in the middle of a residential area and playgrounds,» said Yiannis Maglaras, the Public Power Corporation’s (PPC) director of the cleanup operation. «The auxiliary buildings were still being used to train PPC personnel. At that time, however, the specifications for removing asbestos from buildings were almost unknown in Greece.» The asbestos used in the building was particularly friable (unlike the more familiar solid tiles that may be removed easily). Therefore there was a greater risk of the material escaping into the environment in the form of dust particles. «You can look at it, touch it, and walk on it, but you mustn’t inhale it,» explained Panayiota Yiannioti, representative of the British advisory firm Professional Demolition Services. Little light filters through the nylon sheets covering all openings in the building to prevent dust from escaping. The atmospheric pressure is maintained at a lower level than outside the building so that air can enter but not escape. Workers wet the asbestos with a mixture of water and glue to trap fibers into a solid mass, then remove it into plastic bags using a spatula. Another worker uses a vacuum cleaner on the nylon spread on the floor to catch any particles that may have escaped. The filled plastic bags are placed into others made to special specifications and put into containers to be taken by ship to Hamburg where they will be buried. Eighteen workers are trained for two weeks in the work methods and in how to protect themselves. They do not spend the entire working day inside but alternate doing outside jobs. When they leave for the day they go through a decontamination process that begins with removing their overalls, then gloves. In a second section of the decontamination chamber they remove their mask and then wash. The next step is to clean the Megalopoli Steam Electric Plant. It is most likely that asbestos will continue to be a problem in Greece for some decades. Estimates put the total amount still in homes, hotels, schools, public and private buildings at about 6 million tons. This article appeared in the March 3 issue of Kathimerini supplement K.

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