The Greek Environment Ministry has issued a warning regarding the public health risk posed by the unusually high level of wood burners and fireplaces being used to heat homes.
To Vima reported the National Air Pollution Monitoring Network is monitoring the significant rise in atmospheric pollutants as cash strapped households turn to wood burners and fireplaces as their source of heat. Digital Journal reported air pollution has been registered at three times normal levels, with smog clouding large cities.
A new study by Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University reveals that the high levels of atmospheric pollutants caused by the change to burning wood for heat, poses a public health threat. According to Ekathimerini the study showed "that the cost to public health of the increase in the use of solid fuels in 2012 compared to 2011 amounted to €40 million for Thessaloniki alone."
Scientists have warned smaller air pollution particles can "penetrate further into the lungs and affect blood circulation." The Environment Ministry has warned citizens to ensure only appropriate wood is burned rather than wood impregnated or painted with chemicals, which exacerbate the pollutants. However, the increased demand for wood has caused the price to rise, leaving many people with no choice but to burn furniture or other inappropriate materials. Firelighters and newspapers add to the toxic mix.
In addition to the health risks posed by the increased use of fires for warmth, there has a been a rise in the number of deaths from fires. Three children burned to death in northern Greece when a roof collapsed as a result of a housefire caused by a wood burner. It was the only form of heating the family could afford.
The increase in fatalities, pollution, health risks and financial costs is all a direct result of the Greek government's policy of raising the taxes (by 48 percent) on central heating oil to such an extent that most households cannot afford to purchase it. Households are not alone in being affected by the high price of heating oil. Many schools may be forced to close after the Christmas break as they cannot afford to heat the classrooms.
The Environment Ministry is due to hold a substantive meeting next week "to examine all the complex aspects of the problem created by the sharp decrease in oil consumption for heating because of rising prices after the tax equation." The short-sighted policy has already created untold misery and many Greeks are already demanding the tax be abolished.