The toxic material used in construction creates problems not only for the people around, but also for the plants and soils in this important agricultural region for the country. Hatay is located in the most fertile part of Turkey and much of the production is exported throughout the country. Asbestos is likely to lead to a serious health crisis.
An expert from the Turkish Chamber of Environmental Engineers collected samples from Hatay, which were analyzed by an international laboratory commissioned by Deutsche Welle. The research shows that they contain asbestos, although the authorities deny this. Health experts confirmed to DV that this puts everyone who lives in the region – including thousands of children – at risk of oncological diseases of the lungs and larynx. “In the coming years, tens of thousands of young people may die from such diseases,” commented doctor Jozkan Kaan Karadag.
Danger is ignored
Asbestos was once considered a miracle material suitable for a wide variety of applications. Today, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as a “probable carcinogen”. In Turkey, many buildings still have traces of asbestos. Its sale there was banned only in 2010. Now this poisonous material, which is contained in the roofs, walls and insulation of dwellings and houses, is spread through the air when they are demolished.
Local organizations such as the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects say their warnings about the health risks from asbestos are falling on deaf ears. In response, Turkey’s former Deputy Minister of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change, Mehmet Emin Birpanar, announced in June 2023 that there is no asbestos in the air.
People are already getting sick because of the dust
However, the analyzes mentioned above in this text, commissioned by DV, show a completely different picture. 45 samples taken in six different districts of Hatay contradict official assurances that there is no danger. Asbestos was found in the dust collected from the roofs of the tents in which the people who lost their homes during the earthquake live. It is also found on the leaves of plants, fruits, in the soil and in the ruins on the streets.
Cancers caused by inhaling asbestos can take decades to develop. However, the huge amount of dust in these regions is already harming people’s health, experts say.
15-year-old Limar Yunusolu and her family are Syrian refugees in Turkey. After the earthquake, they had to live in tents. Limar’s brother is now ill. “He got sick because of the dust. We took him to the hospital, where they gave him oxygen. But as soon as we get back here, the dust makes him sick again. Sometimes he sleeps for a whole week,” says the girl.
A merchant tells us that his family also got sick from the dust in the air. Near the store is a ruined building and lots of waste, from electronics to insulation materials known to contain asbestos. “Our noses and throats are full of dust. Our houses, tents, yards, cars – full of dust. That’s why we, and our children, and our mothers and fathers are sick,” he says, showing red spots that are appeared on his skin.
“They didn’t even cover the bodies of the trucks”
In April, Hatay’s bar association and conservation organizations launched a lawsuit demanding that the demolition of the city’s earthquake-damaged buildings be halted. The case has been pending for five months. Ejevit Alkan is one of the lawyers in the case. He also got sick.
Alkan tells the DV team in Hatay that one of the sites for construction waste is located next to a local high school. Others – to the improvised city of vans where earthquake victims live. Construction waste from the demolished buildings is also stored next to an irrigation canal for agricultural land.
Environmental engineer Utku Firat says asbestos should have been removed from the buildings before they were demolished. Then the damage would have been less. “And not only did they not do that, but they continue to not cover the bodies of the trucks they use to transport the waste. Even that alone would have helped at least a little,” says Firat.
Some measures can still be taken to ensure the safety of people like Limar Yunusolu and her brother. “Masks should be distributed to residents and workers in the region and explained that they must wear them,” explains Firat. And more: “Residential regions that are most exposed to the hazardous dust must be relocated.”
However, the best way to solve the problem is to admit that it exists and to safely remove the deadly material.
Source: Deutsche Welle