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Athens Air Quality Ranks Near Bottom Among European Cities

Athens Air Quality
Athens’ air quality was ranked 227th out of 343 cities surveyed by the European Environment Agency. Credit: EEA

Athens’ air quality ranks 227th of 343 European cities in a new report by the European Environment Agency.

The air pollution in Greece’s capital, which officials have grappled with for decades, is considered “moderate” according to data standards. The report was published on Monday.
Cities were ranked from cleanest city to most polluted on the basis of average levels of fine particulate matter over the past two calendar years.

Over that period, which included coronavirus-related lockdowns worldwide, air quality was good in only eleven cities.

The three cleanest cities in terms of air quality over that period were also among the smallest: Umeå in Sweden with a population of 125,000 followed by Faro and Funchal, both in Portugal with populations of 61,000 and 104,000, respectively.

The Athens Pollution Problem

The report studied Athens proper, which has a population of about 664,000, including the city center but did not include the greater metropolitan area.

The city had a fine particulate matter concentration of 12.4; 0-5 is considered “good,” while 5-10 is considered “fair.” The third tier on that scale, 10-15, is “moderate”; then “poor” 15-25; and “very poor,” which is anything over 25.

Fine particulate matter is the air pollutant with the highest impact on health in terms of premature death and disease.

Athens’ air quality has improved in recent years, though the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were a main factor that led to a very sharp but brief dip. In March 2020, a significant drop in air pollution readings was observed in Athens following strict precautionary measures to counter the spread of virus, experts reported.

A quick look at EEA’s real-time European Air Quality Index for Tuesday afternoon showed Athens at between “Moderate” and “Fair.”

Nearly a decade ago, the Athens Medical Association expressed its concern about the high levels of smog over Greece’s largest cities. In late December 2013, doctors warned citizens to limit their use of fireplaces because weather conditions were such that the smog would not easily be dispersed. Measurements at the time showed that air pollution levels  surpassed the warning limit in some areas of Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras, and Volos.

Athens Air Quality
Athens’ air quality was rated “moderate” according to the latest survey from the European Environment Agency. Credit: EEA

Athens’ air quality has improved since then, said Evangelos Gerasopoulos, who leads atmospheric chemistry at the National Observatory of Athens. But he said there was far more to do. The National Observatory has installed over a hundred air quality monitoring stations across the country since 2019.

Gerasopoulos appeared to lay some of the blame for Greece’s air quality troubles on its neighbors in Eastern Europe, adding that “meteorological conditions also favor the transfer of pollution across borders.”

In fact, numerous cities in Poland and Italy had some of the worst air quality levels on the EEA survey. Three cities, Padova and Cremona in Italy and Nowy Sacz in Poland, registered “very poor,” each with fine particulate matter concentrations over 25.

Data for the EEA report came from on the ground measurements of fine particulate matter, taken by over 400 monitoring stations.

On a related note, climate change has been seen as the fastest growing threat to ancient Greek cultural monuments and heritage sites all across the world.

Whether the threat is from more frequent wildfires, coastal erosion, flooding, changed rainfall patterns, or impacts of changes in heat and humidity on building materials, climate change impacts will be critical for the preservation and management of pretty much all monuments in the future.

Extreme weather phenomena seen in recent years, as well as air pollution and acid rain, have also created structural problems in the walls and temples of the Acropolis, which is still one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Greece.

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