Greek Economic Crisis Linked to Higher Air Pollution

First Posted: Dec 25, 2013 10:07 AM EST

It turns out that an economic crisis in Greece may also lead to an air pollution crisis. Researchers have discovered that during a cold snap, air quality can decrease greatly when individuals burn cheaper fuel for warmth.

"People need to stay warm, but face decreasing employment and rising fuel costs," said Constantinos Sioutas, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The problem is economic hardship has compelled residents to burn low quality fuel, such as wood and waste materials, that pollutes the air."

Unemployment in Greece climbed to a staggering 27 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, heating oil prices have nearly tripled in the country during the Greek financial crisis of the last few years. These prices have partially been driven by a fuel tax hike. That's why Greeks have turned to wood as a major fuel source.

In order to better assess air quality, the researchers collected air samples over two-month stretches in the winter of 2012 and again in the winter of 2013. The samples revealed a dramatic increase in airborne fine particles since the beginning of the economic crisis.

These fine particles measure less than 2.5 microns in diameter (approximately 1/30th the diameter of a human hair) and are especially dangerous because they can lodge deep into the tissue of the lungs. In fact, the researchers found that the concentration of these particles in one of Greece's economically hardest hit areas has risen 30 percent since the financial crisis began.

These particles have been linked for increased risk for heart diseases and respiratory problems. During the course of the study, the concentration of particles rose from 26 to 36 micrograms per square meter. The EPA standard in the U.S. is an average of 20 micrograms per square meter over a 24-hour period. Worse yet, the concentrations of carcinogenic organic compounds increased five-fold during the study period.

"Wood's cheap, but it's having a major negative impact on air quality," said Sioutas in a news release.

The findings reveal the importance of implementing effective air pollution control strategies. If something isn't done, it's likely there will be long-term negative health effects on local populations.

The findings are published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

©2017 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission. The window to the world of science news.

Join the Conversation

Real Time Analytics