A clear sign of the increasing energy poverty (see CrisisWatch#20), Greece’s major cities suffocate under a dense cloud of air pollutants, primarily particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), resulting from the increased use of fire wood. The smell of burning wood becomes especially heavy during cold and windless nights and the problem of low visibility can become particularly intense.
A recent study published at the November issue of the Environmental Science and Technology online journal depicts the alarming extent of the problem: “A wintertime sampling campaign for fine particles (PM2.5) was conducted in Thessaloniki during the winters of 2012 and 2013 in an effort to quantify the extent to which the ambient air was impacted by the increased wood smoke emissions.
The results indicated a 30% increase in the PM2.5 mass concentration as well as a 2–5-fold increase in the concentration of wood smoke tracers, including potassium, levoglucosan, mannosan, and galactosan. The concentrations of fuel oil tracers (e.g., Ni and V), on the other hand, declined by 20–30% during 2013 compared with 2012.”
According to another research published at the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity by the Atomic & Nuclear Physics Laboratory of the University of Thessaloniki, an increase in the level of Cesium 137 (137 Cs) background radiation has also been recorded in Greece’s second largest city. The increase is attributed to the burning of biomass (wood) that has been contaminated by the high fallout deposition caused by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, which affected Northern Greece and the neighbouring countries. “Although these concentrations do not pose a hazard for the residents of the city, samplings should be performed locally in the areas where biomass is used as main or additional fuel for residential heating. The signals of 137 Cs in the atmosphere that were observed for the ﬁrst time during the ﬁrst months of 2013 resulted from the increased use of biomass products combustion for residential heating as a consequence of the rising prices of fossil fuels”, the research concludes.
Since 2010, a major source of firewood is illegal logging. Important forest ecosystems, such as the rare oak forests of Xiromero (W. Greece) and Foloi (W. Peloponnese), Mount Grammos (W. Macedonia) and Mount Pelion (Thessaly), are systematically plundered by loggers who clear areas either for personal or commercial use. During 2012, 3,105 lawsuits were filed by the forestry authorities against illegal loggers and 13,088 metric tonnes of illegal timber were confiscated. In 2009, the number of lawsuits was 166. As austerity has stripped the environmental administration of human and financial resources, the forestry authorities are seriously hampered in effectively addressing the illegal logging crisis.
Sources: Environmental Science & Technology, The Lancet, Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change on illegal logging in 2012 (in Greek), Dasarxeio.com on illegal logging (in Greek), Illegal Logging Portal.