In Attica, smells of broken promises

Residents of Ano Liosia have over the past few days been subjected to an evil smell, as have the people living in neighboring municipalities. Nikos Papadimas, mayor of the troubled municipality, has said the unbearable smell comes from the treated sewage deposited in the local landfill. The mayor yesterday filled a suit against anyone responsible while shop owners in the area will hold a demonstration to protest the situation. Local authorities are also considering shutting down schools in protest. Worse, a study by the officials of the Prefecture of Western Attica, whose findings have already been sent to the prosecutor, showed that the large amounts of sludge deposited at the dump have put its walls at risk of extensive collapse. «Waste was flowing like a little waterfall,» the report said, painting a very worrying picture about the quality of public health and the environment of a European capital. There is little doubt the existing problems are the legacy of poor handling by the former Socialist government of Costas Simitis. The construction of a waste treatment plant on the islet of Psyttaleia, off Piraeus, should have begun about 10 years ago. That would have solved the problem for good. However, the vested interests of people involved in the transfer of sludge from Psyttaleia, as well as local administration officials, put the brakes on construction works, which resulted in the current mess. That said, the pledges by Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias to the people of Ano Liosia have failed to materialize as well. Early in the summer, the conservative minister pressured the residents of Ano Liosia to allow the temporary transfer of the sludge for the sake of the public good, meaning the 5 million inhabitants of Athens. Back then, Souflias assured the public that the deposit of treated sewage will not pose a health hazard or undermine their living conditions. We are not in a position to know whether the ministry had mistakenly assessed the dangers involved in transferring and depositing sludge to the area or whether officials had deliberately downplayed the consequences of the process. The point is that people are exposed to a putrefying odor. The minister must find a quick solution to the problem instead of allowing inferior state officials to claim there is nothing to worry about. At stake is Souflias’s own political credibility.