European Committee of Social Rights: Greece violates the right to health of residents of the Asopos river

Press release

FIDH and the Hellenic League for Human Rights welcome the unanimous decision of the European Committee of Social Rights recognizing Greece’s violation of the right to protection of health guaranteed by the European Social Charter. FIDH and the Hellenic League had lodged a collective complaint against Greece on 8 July 2011, claiming Greece’s failure to eliminate or reduce the harmful impact of the large-scale industrial pollution of River Asopos on the health of residents.

High levels of pollution, due to the discharge of industrial liquid waste into the River Asopos and the groundwater in the Oinofyta region for over 40 years, continue to affect several villages gathering more than 200 000 inhabitants. The presence of heavy metals (in particular of Cr-6) in the soil and water imply serious health risks including heightened risks of cancer for residents.

Although the Minister of Environment recognized in 2010 “the serious and complex problem of pollution in the Asopos valley and the groundwater in this area”, and that certain measures – as acknowledged by the Committee - have been taken by the Greek authorities since then, little has been done in practice to address the problem and control the industrial emissions of private enterprises.

The Committee notes with concern the delay and deficiencies in the implementation of existing regulations and programmes, as already denounced by a number of judicial decisions at national level. Moreover, the Committee considers that, due to the scale of the pollution as well as the fact that the problems have been known for a long time, the public information initiatives were insufficient. Indeed these were initiated too late and, in most cases, were sporadic and insufficiently coordinated. Therefore, the Committee concluded Greece’s failure to fulfill its obligations under articles 11§1 and 11§3 of the Charter, by failing to take appropriate measures to remove as far as possible the causes of ill-health and prevent the diseases and to provide advisory and educational facilities for the promotion of health, as expressed in article 11§2.

This is the second time the Committee concludes on a violation by Greece of the right to health linked to environmental and industrial issues. In 2006, the Committee deplored the insufficiency of the measures taken to protect the persons living in brown coal exploitation regions (Marangopoulos Foundation v. Greece).

“It is time the Greek authorities seriously address the pollution of the Asopos river. The harmful consequences of inaction can no longer be overlooked”. said Yannis Ktistakis from the Hellenic League for Human Rights.

FIDH and the Hellenic League call on the Greek authorities to implement the decision and to immediately:
 conduct analyses of the surface and ground water and launch a comprehensive epidemiological study;
 take steps in order to remove as far as possible the causes of ill-health as prescribed by numerous judicial decisions;
 fully inform inhabitants on the risks of using the water for consumption and/or irrigation.

For more information:
Read the Decision of the European Committee of Social Rights
Read the collective complaint of FIDH and the HLHR

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