Faucets in Oinofyta are still dripping depleted chromium

At the end of last summer, people living along the banks of the polluted Asopos River were given some encouragement, for after decades of inaction the state decided to act when traces of depleted chromium were found in the drinking water so close to Athens. Even Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias called the problem a national one. Environmental inspectors descended on local industries, fines were imposed and a promise made to locals that they would have clean drinking water by Christmas. Seven months after the discovery that industries were emptying waste into the Asopos River, the town of Oinofyta has not yet been connected to the water mains and its supply is still tainted with toxins. Yet the authorities keep reassuring them that clean water will be supplied in a matter of days. Kathimerini has learnt that analyses of the water in the area show the continued presence of heavy metals, including the carcinogenic depleted chromium. «Don’t listen to what the authorities say, nothing has changed here,» said Father Yiannis Economidis, one of the protagonists in the fight to have the problem recognized and who heads the local citizens’ group Citizens for Sustainability. «For the past three months, we’ve been hearing that the water is ‘on its way,’ but depleted chromium is still being found in the water supply. This means that the measures taken have not been to any effect. It is as simple as that.» Water samples taken in January, the results of which were only made known to locals after the intervention of the Thebes public prosecutor, showed traces of depleted chromium (there are no safe levels for this substance, as it is known to be carcinogenic.) Oinofyta Mayor Giorgos Theodoropoulos admitted to Kathimerini that depleted chromium is still present but at lower levels. «Environment inspectors are making continued inspections of local industries, some of which are clearly continuing to dispose of their waste in the river or directly into the water table via wells,» he said. «We have seen this happen. There has been an improvement in the situation, but obviously it is still far from what is desirable.» He said the water purification plant has been constructed, water has arrived in Oinofyta from the Mornos dam and is being tested. However, the second major project, the construction of a pipeline from Oinofyta to Dilesi (where the population grows to 30,000 in the summer) has not yet begun. The job has been assigned to ELEKTOR, a subsidiary of the Bobolas Group, but as the project is valued at over 1 million euros, it must be approved by the State Audit Council. The prefecture of Viotia has 2,500 factories but only one inspector. «Half of them are polluting. How can we control them with just one person?» asked Deputy Prefect Dimitris Angelou. «For months, we have been asking for more chemical engineers but no one is listening. The only thing we can do is to exert pressure so that the Asopos remains a top priority for the ministry’s environment inspectors.» He said the prefectural services have no way of knowing how much waste an industry produces or where it goes. «They show us an invoice from a waste management company. How do we know if it concerns all the waste, and how it was done?» According to sources, the authorities have fined 40-50 industries, but the fines represent just 2.39 percent of their annual profits, 0.08 percent of their turnover. «Many of them appeal; the case takes five years to be heard and in the meantime, not a single euro has been paid,» said Angelou.

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