Can Europe Make It?

Smog everywhere!

Ioanna Karamitrousi
17 February 2014

In recent days, there has been more and more talk about a new phenomenon that threatens people and animals, the life and the existence of the planet. This phenomenon is called “smog”. But what is smog and how did it come about? Why is it so harmful and so threatening to our planet? And why is it so strong in Greece?

Smog is a form of air pollution caused by the burning of solid fuels, especially wood and coal. It consists of soot particles from smoke, from which it takes its name, and the poisonous sulfur dioxide gas.

“The explosive growth of smog has had a deleterious effect on the environment and on human health," says Ioannis Pantis and Alexis Benos, respectively Professor of Ecology and the Professor of Hygiene, Social Medicine and Primary Care, both of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. "The main reasons for the growth of smog in Greece are austerity measures and the energy inefficient residential development of the post-war years.”

Smog is mainly a product of biomass combustion and chemically treated wood, placing additional burdens on the already burdened atmosphere of cities, and has a direct and lasting impact on the health of the human population. The dramatic proliferation of gaseous pollutants is a major health risk and requires immediate and drastic measures to combat.

Although in modern times, the air pollution in cities is mainly from photochemical smog, in areas where burning coal and other solid fuels perseveres, the main form of pollution is smog. For instance the smog of 2013 in Harbin, China resulted in the closure of roads, schools and the local airport.

Let’s not forget the tragic incident that happened in London in 1952. Smog engulfed London for five days in December 1952. More than 4,000 people are believed to have died from the effects and this led the government to ban fireplaces around the city. What unfolded on December 5 of that year had no precedent. The weather was cold and there were heavy snowfalls. As a result, the inhabitants of London were burning large quantities of wood in fireplaces and huge amounts of smoke were released into the sky.

In those five days, where visibility was impossible even for pedestrians holding lanterns, thousands of people died and countless others suffered from respiratory problems. To avoid a repeat of such tragedy in the future, the government adopted a series of laws, the principal one being the Clean Air Act.

In my opinion, one thing the Greek government could do is to reduce the cost of heating oil. These austerity measures have led to poverty and misery, and as a result the wood fireplace is the cheapest way of heating. Hopefully this attitude will change and smog will begin to be a thing of the past.

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