In Hatay, southern Turkey, crews are nonetheless demolishing buildings that had been closely broken within the earthquake that struck on February 6, 2023, and killed tens of hundreds of individuals. Yellow diggers transfer piles of leftover rubble, kicking up clouds of mud that shroud town. Some kids stroll by the particles to discover a spot to play soccer. As they breathe, they’re probably inhaling a silent killer: asbestos.
The poisonous constructing materials has contaminated vegetation, soil and rubble in the important thing agricultural area, pointing to a critical, unfolding public well being disaster, in response to an unique investigation by DW’s Turkish and Atmosphere desks. An skilled group from the Turkish Chamber of Environmental Engineers collected mud samples in Hatay, which had been then analyzed by AGT Vonka Engineering and Laboratory Providers, an internationally accredited laboratory, for DW. The investigation exhibits the presence of asbestos within the area regardless of official claims on the contrary.
Public well being consultants informed DW that individuals dwelling within the earthquake-hit space, together with hundreds of youngsters, are at critical danger of asbestos-linked cancers of the lungs and larynx. Mesothelioma, which is a very lethal and aggressive most cancers, is one other hazard. “Within the coming years, we might face the deaths of tens of hundreds of very younger folks because of mesothelioma circumstances,” stated Özkan Kaan Karadag, a medical physician and skilled in public and occupational well being, after seeing the preliminary lab outcomes from DW’s investigation.
Asbestos danger heightens throughout earthquake particles cleanup. As soon as hailed as a miracle materials with an enormous vary of makes use of, asbestos is now categorized as a “particular carcinogen” by the World Well being Group. However asbestos building supplies are nonetheless discovered in lots of buildings in Turkey constructed earlier than a 2010 ban on its sale — the precise quantity is unclear. When these supplies — usually present in roofs, sidewalls and insulation — are damaged, the asbestos can crumble to microscopic sizes and change into airborne, spreading within the wind.
The February 6 earthquake destroyed 100,000 buildings in 11 cities, together with Hatay. Greater than 200,000 others had been severely broken. The UN additionally estimated the quake, alongside a smaller one two weeks later, left between 116 million and 210 million tons of rubble. That is sufficient particles to cowl an space almost twice the scale of Manhattan. Employees are nonetheless demolishing broken buildings and eradicating particles, usually with out masks or protecting gear. In some circumstances, they aren’t utilizing suppression strategies — like spraying water — that may forestall the unfold of mud. The DW group on the bottom noticed just one case of mud suppression with water throughout their investigation.
Organizations such because the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects say their warnings in regards to the public well being dangers posed by haphazard post-earthquake demolition, particles elimination and waste disposal practices are being ignored. In response to those warnings, Mehmet Emin Birpinar, the then-Deputy Minister of Atmosphere, Urbanization, and Local weather Change, wrote on social media in June that there was no asbestos within the air.
“Our residents within the earthquake zone can relaxation assured; we’re working very fastidiously on asbestos,” he stated. DW uncovers asbestos presence in quake-hit area regardless of official denials However the outcomes of the DW evaluation of 45 samples from six completely different neighborhoods in Hatay seem to contradict official statements. Sixteen randomly taken samples, together with mud collected from the tops of tents of these made homeless by the earthquakes — in addition to from leaves, fruit, soil and rubble — contained asbestos.
In Gaziantep, 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Hatay, DW took a ultimate mud pattern from the roof of their rental automobile. The pattern was constructive for asbestos. The group had taken a management pattern earlier than leaving Gaziantep for Hatay after washing the automobile two days beforehand, and that pattern was unfavorable. Specialists informed DW that this confirmed how the fibrous materials can cling to automobiles and journey lengthy distances.
Cancers linked to asbestos publicity can take a long time to seem. Nonetheless, the thick mud within the area is already harming well being, with kids at substantial danger, in response to consultants. Fifteen-year-old Limar Yunusoglu and her household fled to Turkey from Syria to flee the warfare. After the earthquake they moved into tents close to a rubble dump. Her brother is now unwell.
“My brother received sick from the mud. We take him to the hospital, and so they give him oxygen. However then we come again right here the place the mud hurts him. Generally he sleeps the entire week,” stated Yunusoglu. Some 50 kilometers alongside the coast, a tradesman informed DW that mud is making him and his household sick too. Within the ruins subsequent to his store, there’s loads of waste, from digital items to insulations supplies recognized to include asbestos.
“All of us have our noses and mouths filled with mud. Our homes, our tents, the entrance of our homes, our automobiles are all filled with mud. That is why our youngsters and us, our moms and dads are all sick,” he stated, whereas exhibiting pink blotches which have appeared on his arms and abdomen. Public well being skilled Karadag stated it was troublesome to find out how many individuals are affected within the area with out goal well being monitoring research.
“Official statements claiming that individuals are not affected solely lead to masking up the issue,” he stated. Neighborhood efforts ramp as much as handle the asbestos risk. In April, Hatay Bar Affiliation and environmental and well being organizations filed a lawsuit to halt demolition actions within the metropolis, however the case continues to be pending after 5 months. Ecevit Alkan from the Hatay Bar Affiliation is among the attorneys attempting to struggle towards unhealthy practices of waste elimination. He too fell unwell from the mud.
Alkan helped map out all of the rubble dump areas used within the metropolis, as a result of the authorities haven’t made the knowledge public, he stated. He exhibits DW one website that’s near a highschool in addition to to the container metropolis for earthquake victims and an irrigation canal for farming. Hatay is a part of the nation’s fertile crescent, and its agricultural produce like parsley and chard are transported all around the nation. “So, it is rather dangerous to make use of this place as a rubble dump, for each people and the setting,” stated Alkan.
Utku Firat, an environmental engineer who helped acquire mud samples for DW, stated the hazard may have been minimized by eradicating asbestos supplies earlier than buildings had been demolished. “Not solely did they fail to take action, however in addition they nonetheless don’t even cowl the lorries carrying the rubble with tarpaulins. Even this may have helped lots,” Firat stated of the authorities and demolition corporations. Whereas the injury that is occurred up to now can’t be reversed, some security measures would at the least diminish a number of the risks for folks like Limar Yunusoglu and her brother.
“Masks needs to be distributed to the folks and the employees within the area, and they need to be inspired to make use of them,” stated Firat. “Residential models in areas which are affected most by mud needs to be recognized and moved to a different place.” However the principle resolution, consultants say, is to confess the issue and safely get rid of the lethal materials.