Poor air quality in Turkey’s quake region threatens public health

Turkey’s quake-torn Hatay province residents were breathing dust 20 days a month according to research by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and the Right to Clean Air Platform, revealing the extent of air pollution. Another Greenpeace study found that three of the five worst air quality in Turkey were quake-afflicted provinces.

Osman Çaklı / Gazete Duvar

A joint study by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and the Right to Clean Air Platform found that residents in Turkey’s quake-torn Hatay province breathed dust 20 days a month, revealing the extent of air pollution exacerbated by the earthquake in the area. 

The month-long study monitored air quality in Hatay’s Antakya district between October 17 and  November 15. Researchers found that fine particulate matter PM2.5 in Antakya’s air was on average four times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) reference values.  

WHO stated that PM2.5 could “penetrate through the lungs and further enter the body through the bloodstream,” and cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer and strokes. 

The study found that the daily occurrence of the particle was above the WHO reference value of 15 micrograms per cubic meter in 20 days of a month. WHO states that the daily reference value should not be exceeded more than three or four days in a year. 

PM2.5 density in Antakya's air is above WHO standards 20 days out of 30.

The particle has increased in Hatay following the Feb. 6 earthquakes. The report states that the collapsed buildings and the following excavation work exposed the particles to air. The air quality has not improved in the year following the earthquake.  

The report found that the unregulated and arbitrary removal of debris caused high volumes of dust emissions, as the study was conducted before the harsh winter months when many residents burn coal for heating. These efforts took place in the center, close to living quarters, further increasing ingestion by humans. 

Incorrect storage of debris created a permanent dust cloud above the city and caused lasting air pollution, according to the report. 

Experts warned that babies, children, pregnant women, senior citizens, and chronically ill residents were most affected by the air pollution. The report also noted increasing numbers of respiratory complaints such as asthma and bronchitis in the region.

The effects of the inhaled dust would spread over decades and deeply harm the resident’s future health, according to the report. Individual efforts were not enough to combat the pollution unless authorities took strict measures against construction waste in the province. 

“We would like to remind public officials once again that they must protect the wellbeing of the Hatay people who are already living under grueling conditions,” concluded the report. 

The “Air Pollution in Turkey” study by the Mediterranean Greenpeace also found that Hatay’s İskenderun district had the worst air quality in Turkey, according to reporting by the daily BirGün

The epicenter of the Feb. 6 earthquakes Elbistan district of Kahramanmaraş and another affected province, Osmancık were among the top five regions with the worst air quality. The year-long study monitored the PM10 particles and found that residents in Hatay breathed in PM10 particles 235 days out of a year. 

The report also noted that no province in Turkey had clean air according to WHO’s standards for PM10.  

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)