In the midst of a winter cold snap, a study from researchers in the United States and Greece reveals an overlooked side effect of economic crisis dangerous air quality caused by burning cheaper fuel for warmth.
The researchers, led by Constantinos Sioutas of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, show that the concentration of fine air particles in one of Greece's economically hardest hit areas has risen 30 percent since the financial crisis began, leading to potential long-term health effects.
These fine particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter (approximately 1/30th the diameter of a human hair) are especially dangerous because they can lodge deep into the tissue of lungs, according to the EPA.
"People need to stay warm, but face decreasing employment and rising fuel costs," explained Sioutas, senior author of the study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and Fred Champion Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the USC Viterbi School. "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 above 27 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, heating oil prices have nearly tripled in Greece during the Greek financial crisis of the last few years driven in part by a fuel tax hike. Cold Greeks, it would appear (according to the air quality), have turned to wood as a major fuel source.
In their study, the researchers collected air samples that supported anecdotal evidence of Greek residents burning of wood and trash for heating. Taken over two-month stretches in Winter 2012 and again in Winter 2013, the samples reveal a dramatic increase in airborne fine particles since the beginning of the economic crisis.
The concentration of these particles, which has been linked to increased risk for heart disease and respiratory problems, rose from 26 to 36 micrograms per
|Contact: Robert Perkins|
University of Southern California