photo credit: Eleusis Port Authority
Every Sunday morning, the suburb of Tzitzifies was full of people. Hundreds of fishermen from all over Athens gathered here to buy bait and secure a seat in the boats or the buses that would transport them to paradise: the Saronic Gulf fishing grounds. The sea was exceptionally rich, and experienced fisherman could hope for a good harvest of dusky grouper, common pandora, common dentex, gilt-head bream, blue whiting, weever, chub mackerel, black seabream, cuttlefish, squid, and octopus. From Fleves to Eleusis and Pachi the seas supported many professional fishermen as well as fifty thousand amateurs.
Fish and ships
Apart from fish and fishermen, however, the Saronic Gulf was also very popular among shipowners and industrialists. Its pristine waters were under pressure from the increase in marine traffic and the presence of heavy industrial units on its shores (particularly shipbuilding and steelmaking). The negative consequences soon became all too obvious. In May 1971 the Central Port Authority of Piraeus asked for fishing to be prohibited “by all means and throughout the year” throughout the bay of Eleusis. Sewage pipelines, factory wastewater, and petroleum products have transformed picarel into a threat to public health.
Oil and water don’t mix
In the early 1970s, the government seemed interested only in combating oil spills. The Central Port Authority of Piraeus had fifteen high-speed patrol boats and trained personnel who undertook cleanup operations with oil dispersants. At the same time, the Ministry of Marine, Transport, and Communications imposed heavy fines on captains who contaminated the sea with marine oil and lubricants. In February 1972 the master of the Yan. Xylas tanker received a fine of 5,000,000 drachmas because he released large amounts of oil in the sea area of the Eleusis Shipyards. The vessel was not allowed to depart until the fine had been paid in full.
The people of Eleusis were the first to experience the consequences of this degradation. At a public meeting organized by the mayor Michalis Leventis at a local theater, in the summer of 1977, there was a report on the link between pollution and residents’ health. According to a study by a local gynecologist, there were twice as many deliveries of babies suffering from serious health issues in Eleusis during the past few years, and the culprit was the “terrible pollution of the environment.” The bay of Eleusis was almost dead, while the bottom of the sea in front of the “Halyvourgiki” steel factory was buried under six meters of hazardous waste.
A voice calling in the wilderness
The appeals of the Municipality to the government had no effect. The mayor informed the residents that he had asked for a decontamination station to study and control the levels of sea pollution. He managed to secure the required funds and the building for the station, which would operate under the supervision of the National Technical University of Athens, but the authorities invoked various excuses and pretexts not to issue the permit.
Equally ineffective were attempts to prohibit the issuance of permits for the establishment of new industries or the extension of existing ones in the wider area of the bay of Eleusis. The Ministry of Industry did not even look at the petitions and memoranda sent by the residents of Eleusis and allowed “Halyvourgiki” to expand its premises. Other local industries gained permission to install more powerful machinery (more than 1,000 hp) that would inevitably exacerbate preexisting environmental issues.
It was obvious that the city was at risk of being completely destroyed in order to “enrich a few people who do not (even) live here, or rarely visit the city.” A place that had survived the ravages of time was being squeezed under the unbearable burden of pollution levels that poisoned future generations.