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Lead from Turkish mine closed 75 years ago still poses threat

BALIKESİR – RADİKAL | 7/22/2010 12:00:00 AM | Hilmi DUYAR

A former lead mine in the northwestern city of Balıkesir is still posing a significant environmental and health risk to people and livestock in the area, even after 75 years of inactivity, according to a report prepared by the local District Bureau of Agriculture. A French company that operated the mine between 1920 and 1935 left 4 million tons of waste and cinder behind

Continuing to pollute even after 75 years of inactivity, a former lead mine in the Marmara province of Balıkesir is still posing a significant environmental and health risk to people and livestock in the area.

A French company that operated the mine between 1920 and 1935 left 4 million tons of waste and cinder behind when it closed the mine, polluting surrounding fields and the Maden river which in the vicinity.

The extent of the mine’s damage to the local environment was discovered when a significant proportion of a near 90-head flock of sheep grazing in a nearby field were killed, while the surviving members of the herd were left sterile, according to a report prepared by the Balya District Bureau of Agriculture.

Ali Akgün, a farmer who tended his sheep in the field, called the bureau when his sheep started dying.

The samples taken from the river and the grass in the field contained 5 milligrams of lead per kilogram, which, according to the report, was high, while the samples taken from the sheep’s livers also revealed a lead residue.

The report concluded that the sheep were killed by lead poisoning.

Based on the report, Balıkesir Deputy Mayor Ali Osman İşsen recently issued a ban on grazing in the area.

Akgün complained to the authorities, saying they had been negligent about the lead residue in the area and that their lack of publicly broadcast information was responsible for the death of his sheep.

He also said he had seen a lot of dead fish on the surface of the river that ran through the field.

“This river flows right into the Manyas dam,” Akgün said. “There are people who fish right before the beginning of the dam and either eat or sell their catch. These people have not been informed of the lead and cinder content in the water. The wind and occasional overflow of the river might even have spread the lead to a wider area.”

Balıkesir University Biology Department Assistant Professor Dilek Türker Çakır evaluated the Balya District Bureau of Agriculture’s report and said the lead in the liver tissue from the sheep was alarmingly high.

“The lead residue from the meat, depending on the way the meat is cooked and consumed, might accumulate in various parts of the human body such as the liver, the kidneys or the cerebral cortex,” she said. “It would be very easy for the lead residue to spread from the sheep. Researchers should consider all links in the food chain that the lead residue might pass through.”

The French company mined several thousand tons of lead in Balya between 1920 and 1935. The company also brought electricity to the area to build a hospital, which, along with the mine industry, elevated the population of Balya to 30 thousand. The population declined to two thousand residents again after the mine was closed in 1935.

In 2000, the Mining Exploration Institute designed a project that would open the mine fields to tourism and build a mine museum in the district, but the project was never launched.

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