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12/9/2013. PTOLEMAIDA, north GREECE. A general view of one of the power plants in Ptolemaida, northern Greece. The smoke coming from the slim chimeys is the one from where the dangerous toxins come from. The big chimneys let only vapor. The operation works 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, 365 days a week. The Greek government in need of cash to pay-off the country’s interest, is planning to sell-off the second biggest largest company in Greece, the electricity company (PPC) that also holds the energy monopoly in the country. Germany, Russia, and other countries have shown interest in making investments in the Greek energy market. Greece is second in Europe and the seventh in the world in production of brown coal, while 70% of the energy produced in Greece comes from brown coal. This story has many different aspects. It’s a social, a political, an international, an environmental, an energy, and a health story. Just 3 miles from the mines is the town of Ptolemaida with a population of 40.000 people, while 20 miles away is the town of Kozani with a population of 50.000. Both cities are affected by the pollution the plants produce. This year, the mines operations are into their 55th year of operation. In the '50s, the decade the mines started operating the cancer death rate in the area was 14%. Twenty years later, the cancer death rate rose to 21%. Today, one out of three people in the region die because of cancer, while 80% of the children have respiratory problems. For mine-workers, life expectancy is 61 years, 10 years less than the national average. According to doctors, most cancer cases are linked directly to the pollution caused by the mines, while this is the only periphery in Europe with such a small population to have five permanent representatives of large pharmaceutical companies. One of the biggest problems the workers in the mines are facing is the limited resources they have. They work overshifts without getting paid, as from 8000 workers now there are only 4000 left, most of whom are old and will be retiring soon. Workers and mechanics also need to be creative often, as they don't have all the tools and spare parts they need to repair the heavy machinery they need. But, because the need for electricity keeps growing, so are the mines and the electricity company is going forward with expropriations of villages that are unlucky enough to be built over land that is rich in lignite. The villagers of Klito have been informed that they will need to move and they’re obliged to pick a place to live by 2014. There have already been four other expropriations of villages and what’s left of a population of 4,500 is 2-3 people scattered in the ghost-villages. But, there's also another village, Xaravgi, that’s surrounded by mines and the villagers are not going to be transferred, because there's no coal under their houses. Hit by the crisis, they can't afford to move and so, they’re condemned to live in a polluted environment. According to the Technological University of Kozani, the air quality in the region is 7 to 8 times higher than European safety standards. But, the same time, a possible shutdown of the mines will leave 2000 people unemployed, in a region where the unemployment rate is 52% and there's very little farming or any other economic activity. Now the government is looking for an investor that will take over the company. German and French companies have shown interest. The 4000 employees at the mines of Ptolemaida are worried because a potential sell off might mean further budget cuts and even layoffs, a prospect really scary when the region already has 52% unemployment.