Villagers oppose gold exploration with cyanide in Turkey’s Bursa

Residents and public health experts opposed gold mining operations conducted by the Turkish Mineral Exploration Directorate in the Bursa province. Villagers fear tree cutting and cyanide use would devastate local agriculture, and experts warn that the soil in the area could contain asbestos.

Pelin Akdemir / Gazete Duvar

Villagers and public health experts on June 19 voiced their opposition to the gold and antimony exploration done in the Bursa province’s Eymir and Sülüklügöl villages by the Turkish Mineral Research and Exploration General Directorate (MTA).

Exploration efforts began four years ago with surface scans and escalated to drilling two months ago. A large section of forest was cleared for mining. Villagers opposed the mining, citing concerns about damage to irrigation and drinking water supplies, and the potential ruin of their agricultural livelihood.

Mustafa Ergün from Eymir Village described the operations, "Drilling is happening in two places, and preparations for more drilling are underway. Around 500-600 acres of forest have been cut. There is an irrigation pond above the village, and the drilling appears to be heading downwards."

Ergün, who relies on agriculture, said, "They are searching for gold here, and cyanide will be used in the process. It will poison our pond’s water, which we use to irrigate our fruits and vegetables. Without healthy plants, we will lose our income." 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) İnegöl District President Zemci Şahin visited the forest and confirmed the tree cutting upon the villagers’ complaints. 

He warned that Sülüklügöl, Eymir, Kurşunlu, Süpürtü, and Küçükyenice villages could be affected by cyanide poisoning, "The villagers are worried about the tree cutting and the use of cyanide, which would destroy the agriculture of these villages. They fear the poison will contaminate their irrigation reservoir."

Initially, villagers were told that the cut trees would be replaced, but suspicions arose with the arrival of heavy machinery. Şahin explained, "One of the foresters let slip that drilling was for mining. The villagers should have been informed, but it was kept from them."

Dr. Eşref Atabey's March 2024 study on carcinogenic asbestos locations in Turkey found asbestos deposits in 237 villages across 106 districts in 51 provinces. In İnegöl, chrysotile asbestos was located between Sülüklügöl, Gökbağ, and Tekke neighborhoods.

Public Health Specialist Alpaslan Türkkan evaluated the impact of mining activities in asbestos-containing soil. He highlighted that asbestos usage was banned due to its health risks and residential developments in asbestos soils were prevented. He stated, "Asbestos is released during mining and can become airborne, affecting areas up to 40-50 kilometers away."

He listed diseases caused by inhaling airborne asbestos fibers, "Mesothelioma, lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, and ovarian cancer are potentially fatal illnesses." Türkkan concluded, "The longer the mining activities, the greater the asbestos exposure and public health risk. When human and community health is at stake, no cost-benefit analysis can justify mining over asbestos harm."

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)