Let them eat wood

Priced out of the heating oil market, some cold citizens may face a ban on burning wood for home heating

Environment minister signs a draft joint ministerial decision that will allow a ban on the use of fireplaces and stoves in areas where air pollutants exceed 150 micrograms per cubic metre (mg/m3)

After taxing heating fuel beyond the reach of thousands of households, the government has taken the first step in banning the use of fireplaces and wood stoves in areas affected by dangerous smog levels, ironically an unintended consequence of the high price of heating oil.

The environment minister, Yiannis Maniatis (Pasok), has already signed a draft joint ministerial decision that will allow the authorities to ban the burning of wood for heating in areas where air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other suspended particles like soot and dust exceed 150 micrograms per cubic metre (mg/m3).

If the ministerial decision is co-signed the other six ministers necessary, it will be the first time that such bans can be enforced in Greece.

The ministry hopes to have collected the signatures by the end of November.

Fuel tax hikes introduced last year sent heating oil prices up 40%, leaving thousands to suffer the winter months in the cold, pushing consumption of heating oil down 70% in the last three months of 2012 from a year earlier. Estimates last year said 95% of Athens apartment buildings bought no heating fuel.

That fuelled a return to wood burning for heating purposes, filling the skies of Athens with smog. On 9 January this year, levels reached 241 mg/ m3, compared with a danger level of 50 mg/m3.

According to official figures from the past five years, smog levels crossed the danger threshold of 150 mg/m3 on 10 to 15 days in total, usually on exceptionally cold winter nights.

Eleftherotypia has learned that the bans will come info force when smog levels reach 100-150mg/m3. Environment ministry sources said that offenders would be identified by the smoke coming out of the chimneys, but were unclear as to how the ban will be enforced without affecting civil rights, such as privacy, and what the punishment for offenders will be. 

Neither was it clear whether pellet-burning stoves will be covered by the proposed bans.

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