Elefsina Bay and Koumoundourou Lake: serious examples of environmental pollution
Elefsina is located on the Saronikos Gulf towards the SE of the mainland, 24km from Piraeus. The first time I saw this place, I was horrified by what I saw: gargantuan-sized gas works, steel works, cement works, oil distilleries, all found within metres of what looked like residential zones. Dust flew everywhere, piling on the side of the road like mud, especially outside the cement works. No one wore masks; no one seemed to care that they were inhaling dust. I tried to see the hidden beauty of this land, but the horrors of the modern men makes it very difficult: one must have the ability to see the past, or have great imagination, to recover the lost splendour of the Thriasian Plain and the city, once called Eleusis, now Elefsina in modern greek.
Elefsina was one of Ancient Greece's most sacred towns, about 20 km NW of Athens, but it's since become a byword for air and sea pollution. Elefsina, though, is spearheading efforts to clean up the country's coastline. The region around Elefsina was recently identified as one of the most endangered areas of the Mediterranean (as for example: Elefsina currently is the city with the highest ever officially recorded temperature in Europe of 48.0 °C ). It is curious: this place was in antiquity, one of the most fertile and pleasant valleys of the whole Greece, it used to be an agricultural and cattle-breeding area; but it is also the largest plain in Attic, the closest to the capital and with a splendid position near the sea, with a vast bay and easy links with some other important places, such as Corinth, the whole Peloponnesus and the Aegean islands.
After its glorious past in ancient times, for a long period, the city of Elefsina fell into oblivion: during the period of Turkish domination it was almost uninhabited and a few years before the establishment of the Greek state it is mentioned as a small fish -village. In the year 1860 it seems that the history of the contemporary city began by the settlement of merchants, the construction of a railway track (1884) and the opening up of Corinth Isthmus. The installation of the soap-making factory of Charilaou (1875), the cement industry TITAN (1902), the distilleries VOTRYS (1906) and KRONOS (1922) meant the industrialization of the city while, in 1938 the first pollution of Elefsina bay from oil transported for the industrial needs was noticed. The needs of the industries for labour force create successive waves of domestic migration.
The settlement of 2.000 Greek refugees from Asia Minor in 1922 is followed by the population blow-up of 50’s by the settlement of inhabitants of Epirus, Chios, Dodecanese, Corfu and later on (1960) of Crete and repatriated Greeks from the Black Sea. By the simultaneous installation of many big and small industries, Elefsina changed completely its form. Presently, refineries, steel mills, cement factories, shipyards, ammunition industry, 2000 smaller industries, handicrafts and commercial business are operating in the broader area. Although the natural environment has been spoiled from industrialization, in the last years, by a number of interventions, the atmospheric and sea pollution in Elefsina bay has been slightly reduced. The Elefsina Bay, a medium-sized port, is one of the most industrialised and environmentally degraded areas in Greece. The quality of life and economic development in the bay’s communities suffer from pollution and hazards from port and industrial activities, as well as from an uncontrolled urbanisation that has limited the communal spaces and constrained the access to the sea. The situation in Elefsina is typical of many other industrial port and urban areas in Greece, South-eastern Europe and the EU in general.
The region’s dominant problem, which brought about the most serious environmental problems is the presence of many industries. In the region operate over 3000 industrial and craf-based installations, from which, some of the biggest industries of the country, such as: two oil refineries (Hellenic Petroleum S.A., Petrola Hellas S.A.), two steel industries (Hellenic Halyvourgia, Halyvourgiki S.A.), two cement industries (TITAN, Halyps Cement-Italcementi Group), an ammunition industry (PYRKAL), two shipyards, ship scrapping installations, a commercial harbour (as well as a roadstead, where vessels can lie at anchor), establishments of petrol products storage and processing, three fossil fuel processing units, one paper processing industry, scrap units, chemical industries and pits. Besides that, there is also the forthcoming operation of the gigantic new cargo facilities and railway station of Hellenic Railways Organisation (OSE). Air is also highly polluted, due to the industrial activity, fossil fuel consumption and traffic circulation, the costal zone pollution is the top-ranking environmental problem and another problem is traffic congestion and noise pollution, due to heavy vehicles circulation, like lorries or busses: the noise pollution is considered as a very serious environmental problem.
The industries operation have turned the Thriasio Pedio to a particularly polluted area ( air/ sea/ ground/ underground water pollution), in fact Elefsina is the town where the majority of crude oil in Greece is imported and refined. After the end of the war, but also of the civil tragedy that follows it, Elefsina enters definitely into the course of industrialisation. Its geographic situation and its harbour favoured the development of any kind of economic activities. Thus, apart from the old industries that are now modernized, new factories are established in the town area. In 1953 the steel factory starts functioning. In 1955 the oil factory is built and few years' later smaller factories like the ice factory and the shipyard Savvas are founded. Athens's nearest military airport is a few kilometers east of Elefsina. It has been used since the mid-20th century. Its runway is about 2 km and its buildings are to the west. It sits in the Thriasian/Eleusina Plain.
However, the concentration of so many factories in the town and in the wider area of Thriasio Pedio,where so many industries are in function, has catastrophic results on the environment. The air and water pollution has negative consequences also on the population's health. The strong protests and oppositions of the inhabitants result in remediate measures and in a small reduction of the pollution.
Aquatic areas can naturally remove a certain amount of pollution by dispersing it harmlessly.
The marine pollution in both Saronikos Bay and Elefsina has been reduced since biological treatment of industrial waste has taken place. However, measurements showed that there are still many chemical substances which disrupt the normal life of sea creatures.
Western Attica wetlands have an inestimable value. Yet ignorance of the state destroys them daily. Until a few years ago, the wetlands were "undervalued" by the local communities and state. As a result today the Lake Koumoundourou, near the Elefsina Bay, has very significant problems: air and ground pollution, industrial plant and fuel tanks, which come from the industries of Thriasio Pedio. The problems’ aspects are so dangerous and threatening, that each environmental measure must be regarded as a matter of great urgency. Earth is slowly dying, while flora, fauna, air and water have been seriously wounded both in quality and quantity.
Koumoundourou Lake (Lake of ancient Rheitoi)
The lake is fed by the water from the springs of mount Parnes; the surface of the lake is about 143.000 m2. One important characteristic of the lake is the constant discharge of a fresh, unpolluted water source on the north side, which keeps the oxygen level constant and improves the quality in general. As a natural environment the lake has mixed water due to mixing with the sea at percentages of 60–40 %. The lake Koumoundourou has great interest both as an important wetland and a historic site. At the lake have been recorded by the Greek Ornithological Society 50 bird species including: the world's threatened Ferruginous Duck, the pintail, the Northern Shoveler, the wigeon, the pochard etc.
The ancient lakes Rheitoi were dedicated to the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. The ancient Sacred Way met the ancient Rheitoi. Lake Koumoundourou is classified as a historic site since 1974.
Lake Koumoundourou has a long history of pollution, but also a great historical value in the area of the prefecture of Attica with its capital at Athens. Nowadays the installation of the large refinery of “ELPE”, the oil tanks of “Elinoil”, and the military depot have created a very adverse situation for the lake’s environment. Leaks and spills from the oil refinery and depots polluted the lake to the extent that almost no life could be observed in the environment. After the intervention of the Agricultural University of Athens the level of the lake was raised by 20 cm and the additional pressure functioned as a barrier preventing large quantities of pollutants from entering the lake. Nevertheless a huge contamination still took place. This small lake is in the vicinity of the national road, the camp AVEK 871 that supplies with fuel and oils the majority of the Greek army, the ELDA, as well as with an important amount of fuel tanks belonging to private companies. This wetland has been disordered and is close to extinction unless efforts for its protection take place, such as protection from the intense industrial development in the area, as well as limitation in the licks of the underground fuel reservoirs. Works of infrastructure shall also be done in order to collect the rainwater that rinses out the national road ending in the lake, as well as to collect the contaminants from the use of detergents, dissolves and oil at the AVEK camp. Lake Koumoundourou has been polluted by toxic chemical substances, which are by 10 times greater than maximum safety levels. Also, underground pollution from the neighbouring waste disposal center further pollutes the Lake. Underwater pollution from highly dangerous industrial pollutants is also significant. Additionally, pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural activities further deteriorate the situation. Moreover, the absence of modern water supply and sewerage treatment networks in the whole area and their consequent uncontrolled disposal in the environmentally sensitive Eleusis Bay had resulted in Greece’s condemnation from the Court of Justice of the European Communities [Decision of the 24th of June 2004 (Case C-119/02)]. The same happened [Decision of April 2005 (Case C-163/03)] due to the lack of infrastructure in the sector of dangerous waste management and their disposal at Eleusis Bay.
The wetland ecosystems are very rich and productive, with multiple values. The 23 remaining wetlands in Attica, which compose a network of highly important places for the migration and wintering birds, are under a considerable pressure and even threatened with extinction. Blatant example, the lake Koumoundourou.
The Koumoundourou Lake, a lake that was an ancient place of worship, is an example of obsolescence and indifference, in many ways. It has the "misfortune" to be in the Western region of Attica, a strife-torn region, although of great archaeological interest, that has been condemned to endure a toxic death. This lake has been polluted by oil spills and leaks from both the refinery and the military depot, containing large amounts of different petroleum extracts. In addition, the aquifer has also been polluted by an underground pipe connecting these two installations as well as by percolated surface pollutants and leaks from the refinery tanks.
The lake is seen on the road Athens -Corinth. It was once a sacred place, now struggling to live among oil tanks, military facilities, heavy industries and a lot more "threatening" neighbors. In ancient times there were two pools: both lakes had been preserved until the 19th century and featured two water mills. Until the 1950s both lakes were natural fish reserves. The large lake, the northern, Kephalari, was drained in the early '50s and was backfilled during the construction of the oil refinery at Aspropyrgos. Its place is today marked by a swamp. Then, only one lake is left, a part of which has been drained to build the highway. The strange is that this ecosystem is under protection: since 1974 has been declared an archaeological site and the lake, and 50 meters around the area, is designated as suburban park!
Despite all the pressures and threats, the lake stands up and offers residency and relaxation to many species of birds!
Residents of surrounding areas have responded and defended the lake. Required by the state be interested in this, the release of several times the wire which kept "imprisoned" and stressed the significance and cultural value. Brought close to schools, awareness and continue to raise awareness through discussions and events, so that no one else lost this paradise. As if that were not enough already acute problems before 1.5 year (then) Ministry of Development had the 'famous' idea to carry oil tanks in Perama camp on the shores of the lake, but also to build a road junction in this area. There were many reactions because it is so important that this small lake be saved from destruction: the lake has to live and live, as some people claim and require breath in an already troubled Thriasio Plain.
>Some informations taken from greek sites:
- From the Department of Defense we learn that:
The lake is subject to the provisions of Military Security (with laws from 1936 to 1953).
The visit of the lake can be done by informing the administration of the camp.
Visitors are required to surrender their identity at the gate of the camp.
- From the Ministry of Culture, we learn that:
Approved Environmental Study Update the lake (F1/12/56/25-1-2005) .
Visiting schools are free to visit all archaeological sites, but the responsible to answer for Lake Koumoundourou is the Defense ministry.
2.3 Our demand for more frequent and more intensive audits on its own and modern means of OP control of air and groundwater pollution (oil spills, leachate from landfills) is also required for another reason. Lake Koumoundourou declared other than historical site (1974) valuable wetland.
Basically, it is foundamental the reopening of the access to the lake.
Collective action brings results. The dozens of signs prohibiting the entrance of the lake are now inactive. Their existence, suggest rather the need to conceal the pollution, despite the military character of the area given that it is also an archaeological site.
-To protect the Lake Koumoundourou must:
* Stop the aboveground and underground pollution of the lake, the control of neighboring industries (mainly Hellenic Petroleum Aspropyrgos, landfills, etc.) and take immediate and strong measures of protection (decontamination, measurements, etc.).
* To become a site visited so that the citizens can assess its value.
>Wetlands of Attica: oases of life with an uncertain future
(Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at the bookstore IANOS)
This year's celebration of World Day of wetlands: the remaining wetlands in Athens have to face serious problems. The hundreds of wetlands in Greece is the most valuable ecosystems in the country. Nevertheless, the year we passed the Greek Ornithological Society received more than thirty-five complaints related to degradation of wetlands in Greece.
The protection and conservation of wetlands in Athens is vital - aesthetic, emotional, scientific and economic - for everyone. These areas are of particular value because of their proximity to urban yoke of Athens. They perform a variety of valuable ecological functions: support a great variety of life, retain the rain water, rich with this aquifer, but also ensure a balanced change.
The threats and pressures facing wetlands today around Athens have led to severe degradation, and thus degrade the quality of life. Poorly designed flood control projects, oil tanks, off plan construction, illegal hunting, extensive polders are just a few of the growing threats to wetlands listed in Attica.
In conjunction with citizens and volunteers who care about the location and environment of Attica present the priceless value of these wetlands to Attica, the problems they face are urgent and deep, still they propose solutions to preserve them as "oases of life in urban landscape".
''People react and fight to protect these wetlands, as the Agency for Protection and the VOURKARI Movement to save the lake Koumoundourou. Furthermore, twelve of the most important wetlands in the country are monitored regularly by volunteers of the Ornithological Society.''
This, in antiquity, the sacred lake of Persephone, is the modern battlefield, where an unequal struggle unfolds. On one side stands the ruinous industries and political giant and on the other, battling defender, the natural world of the lake. In this semantic specialty, 'guerrilla Lake', the world of wetland are armed only with the ability of survival. The birds and the lake try againto resist to the toxic war. Not protected by any modern law, just struggling to survive in a place that is canceled in the minds of sophisticated Athenians.
((only some photos are taken by me, the others are kindly provided by this blog: