August Wildfires in Greece: Impact on Air Quality

During August of 2021, Greece has been plagued by devastating wildfires for several consecutive days in different parts of the country, amidst one of the most severe heat-waves recorded. A negative record that is unfortunately witnessed in multiple countries in the world (e.g. Turkey, Siberia). More than 580 fires were observed throughout Greece since July 27 and until mid of August with the most critical ones concentrated in the regions of Athens and Euboea.

In collaboration with our air quality data partner eLichens we present information about the effect of this on local air conditions. Measurements from reference weather stations in Athens and Volos (the station in closest proximity to the North of Euboea), showcase the air pollution evolution before and during the wildfires.

Air Quality (PM 2.5): Before and during

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Evolution of the PM 2.5 concentrations in Athens & Volos, Greece

In the midst of the wildfires, PM2.5 air concentration in both Athens and Euboea reached levels which classify as "unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” air quality. With this reading the population in these regions has been exposed for several days in a row to toxic air quality, with possible detrimental health effects. In Athens, a peak was reached on the 4th of August of above 250 µg/m3 reaching "Hazardous" pollution levels, whereas in Volos we notice a similar peak on the 9th of August for Euboea.

Additional air quality measurements are available through eLichens Data Listing.

Health Risks

PM2.5 is the atmospheric particle most readily associated with cardiovascular disease and respiratory diseases. This is partly attributable to the small size of the particle (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) which allows it to penetrate deeply into the lungs. Children and seniors are especially vulnerable to such conditions.

Poor air quality can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, cause shortness of breath, aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and affect the heart and cardiovascular system. Breathing polluted air for long periods of time can cause more serious problems in the long-term.

Air pollution dissipation

There are many factors that affect the evolution of air quality in the period following such events. Weather conditions in the ensuing days is one of the most impactful ones. Windy weather tends to dissipate pollution in direct proportion to wind speed. Similarly, rain drives smoke particles to the ground. Last, time seems to be an ally as even with no wind or rain, any turbulence in the air slowly dissipates the cloud of smoke.

Long-term lasting effect

Wildfires emit substantial amounts of volatile and semi-volatile organic material and nitrogen oxides that form ozone and organic particulate matter. In the long-term, these emissions tend to worsen the average air quality and deteriorate air pollution. In the case of the Greek wildfire, we notice a high concentration of PM2.5 in the atmosphere which lingers in the air and travels across the country as smoke. At first, such direct emissions of toxic pollutants affect first responders and residents in the close vicinity. In the longer-run, the formation and spread of other pollutants may eventually lead to harmful exposures as well as development of health issues for a larger portion of the population.

Wildfire risks and air-quality monitoring

Given the heating of the planet and the more frequent observance of extreme temperatures, it is increasingly important for areas with high risk of fires to be vigilant and pro-actively protect their forests. At the same time, local governments and citizens should learn to pay notice to variations in the air quality and protect themselves from prolonged exposure.

*Elichens has integrated an Air Quality API onto Mobito’s Data Marketplace to offer worldwide coverage of comprehensive pollution data parameters in real-time, forecast and history. This includes exclusive high-resolution pollution information for 300 major cities worldwide, derived from eLichens’ air quality modelling technology. The API empowers citizens, communities and organisations that want to address the global environment challenge of improving air quality. Elichen, founded in 2014, aims to pioneer smart sensor networks through innovative air quality sensing solutions and services for citizens, communities and organisations