Greeks are seeking cheaper fuels to warm themselves this year in light of ongoing austerity measures, but the cost-saving measures are causing dangerous levels of harmful particulates that could lead to long-term health effects, according to a new study released Wednesday.
The study, conducted by the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering, found that the energy crisis has increased pollution in the economically hardest-hit areas by 30 percent.
"People need to stay warm, but [they] face decreasing employment and rising fuel costs," explained Sioutas, senior author of the study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. "The problem is, economic hardship has compelled residents to burn low-quality fuel, such as wood and waste materials, that pollutes the air."
Since 2008 Greece's economy has shrunk by 23 percent and it has since been dependent on rescue loans from other European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund. Making matters worse, oil prices have almost tripled over the past few years due to tax hikes.
In response to energy costs, Greeks have been turning to wood as a fuel source to heat their homes, which impacts air quality.
"Wood's cheap," Sioutas said, "but it's having a major negative impact on air quality." And health. Particles released into the air from burned wood are dangerous to breathe in, potentially causing respiratory problems and heart disease, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
During the study, researchers found that such particles in the environment increased from 26 to 36 micrograms in recent years. The EPA’s U.S. standard averages 20 micrograms. The study also found concentrations of carcinogenic organic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.