Chemical 'Snow' Blankets Cancer-Hit Turkish Town

Milliyet.com.tr/Screen capture
This headline from a major Turkish newspaper's website reads: "Fear of sticky white in Dilovası!"

Winter appeared to have come early this year in Dilovası, an industrial suburb of Istanbul where residents awoke earlier this month to find treetops, laundry lines, backyard vegetable gardens, and greenhouse roofs dusted in white -- but it wasn't with snow.

The origins of the sticky white substance that has repeatedly rained down on Dilovası and neighboring towns are being investigated by government scientists, and local officials have said they will close down any factory determined to have created it "if necessary." For now, the nearly 200 industrial facilities in the area, including steel smelting plants and paint-manufacturing operations, continue to operate as normal. Some of the 45,000 residents of the district say the response has been slow, and insufficient.

Local Farmers' Crops Destroyed
Greenhouse owner Alaattin İllik told the Hürriyet Daily News that he had to call authorities dozens of times before a team was sent out to investigate, five days after locals first noticed the white substance, which İllik said had destroyed his cabbage and leek crops:

"My products were worth at least 20,000 Turkish Liras, but they are all destroyed now. I cannot sell these to anyone. I have to throw them away. This substance also covered the windows of my greenhouse and it blocks the sunshine."

Cancer Rates High In Region
While the white substance has not yet been identified, residents have little reason to be optimistic about its effects on their health. In February, local environmental officials found that 1,000 tons of industrial sludge had been dumped in a vacant field between two villages in the Dilovası area. A month before that, the head of the Public Health Department at Kocaeli University released findings of "abnormally high" quantities of heavy metals in the breast milk of local mothers and the feces of their babies.

An earlier study by the medical faculty at the same university had shown record-high percentages of cancer-linked deaths in the Dilovası region.

Academic Targeted For Health-Risk Research
To date, authorities have denied any elevated health risk in the area, where industrial operations continue to expand. Two local mayors even filed a criminal charges against Professor Onur Hamzaoğlu, the author of the heavy-metals report, for allegedly trying to "spread fear and panic" with his research. The academic is now "the target of a university investigation that could lead to criminal prosecution and a four-year jail term," according to the regional news portal EurasiaNet.org.

Despite the response to his earlier findings, Hamzaoğlu remains outspoken about the dangers facing Dilovası, calling for an independent panel to assess the mysterious white substance. "Of course it is not for the good of the public to neglect the subject like this," he told the Turkish news site Bianet, adding the investigation was "a job that needed to be done systematically and promptly."

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Tags: Cancer | Pollution | Turkey

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