LOS ANGELES, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- The financial crisis in Greece has led to a crisis of another kind, U.S. researchers say -- dangerous air quality caused by burning cheaper fuel for warmth.
Researchers from the University of Southern California say air pollution in one of Greece's economically hardest hit areas has risen 30 percent since the financial crisis began, creating the potential for long-term health problems.
"People need to stay warm, but face decreasing employment and rising fuel costs," Constantinos Sioutas of the university's Viterbi School of Engineering said. "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 rose above 27 percent in 2013 while heating oil prices have nearly tripled during the country's financial crisis of the last few years, the researchers said.
A fuel tax hike on top of that has driven many Greeks to resort to wood as a major fuel source.
"Wood's cheap, but it's having a major negative impact on air quality," Sioutas said.
The concentration of fine air particles rose from 26 to 36 micrograms per square meter over the study period, the researchers reported in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an average of 20 micrograms per square meter over a 24-hour period.