Authorities are reassuring residents of the Vassiliko region that human health has not been put at risk from the fire at a storage area for cutting old tyres as communities stage protests.
The blaze started at the facility in Vassiliko on Saturday, prompting the reactions of the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages of Mari, Kalavasos, Zygi, Maroni, Tochni, Chirokitia, Asgata, Pentakomo and Psematismenos, who protested against the pollution caused by local facilities.
Enerco Energy Recovery Ltd, a company affiliated with the Vassiliko cement factory, said the fire was caused by a mobile shredder when it was being used.
In comments to Politis Radio, the Head of the Agriculture Ministry’s Air Quality Department, Dr Chrysanthos Savvides, said the black smoke cloud, although containing harmful chemicals, was some 50 to 100 metres above the ground.
“The gases were more than 50-100 meters from the ground, while strong winds dispersed gasses, which is why communities were not affected,” said Savvides.
He said that for people to be affected, they would have to be very close to the incident.
Savvides said that, luckily, clear skies kept the toxins above the ground.
“Had it been raining at the time of the incident, all this air pollution would be in the soil, polluting fruit and vegetables, eventually finding its way into the food chain,” said Dr Savvides.
Environment Commissioner Klelia Vasiliou told the Cyprus News Agency that the competent services are carrying out sample checks and will continue to gauge the impact on the ground.
“It was fortunate that the mobilisation of all services was immediate: the Interior Ministry, civil defence, the meteorology department, the environment department, were all on-site,” she said.
It took eight fire engines and a team of 25 firefighters working around the clock to bring the fire under control.
On Monday, tens of people from the nearby villages took to the streets to protest the incident, using it to illustrate their enduring opposition to the relocation of even more heavy industrial plants in the area.
Residents demanded that authorities respect public health, safety, and quality of life, holding banners that said: “No more pollution of our communities”, “Respect the health of our children”, “We have become Cyprus’ landfill”, “No more factories in our area”.
In comments to CyBC radio, the mayor of Kalavasos and chair of the coordinating committee of the nine communities of the Vassiliko area, Lefteris Fokas, said the fire that broke out in the quarry area of the cement factory.
“The incident is proof that the area cannot accommodate other industries”, said Fokas.
He said residents feel cheated by government promises that no more heavy industries will be allowed in the area.
Fokas said residents are determined to escalate action, including closing schools and blocking access to energy production facilities in the area.
Vassiliko is home to Cyprus’ only cement industry, a power station, and a naval base at Mari, while authorities plan to move three asphalt plants there.