Cancer a major concern for residents of northwestern Turkish town
ISTANBUL - Radikal | 1/31/2011 12:00:00 AM | SERKAN OCAK
High levels of industrial pollution have increased the illness and cancer rates in Kocaeli’s Dilovası district to some of the highest anywhere in the country,
High levels of industrial pollution have increased the illness and cancer rates in the northwestern province of Kocaeli’s Dilovası district to some of the highest anywhere in the country, according to residents.
“It is unbearable during the nights here … a very intense smoke comes out of the factories’ chimneys, especially in the early mornings,” said Rahmi Dursun, who lives in Dilovası and lost his brother to lung cancer two months ago. Everyone in the town has had a relative affected cancer, he added.
For decades, the town has been an industrial center as its geographical position is favorable for highway, sea and rail transportation. The town’s industrial development has been uncontrolled, leading to heavy pollution and spiraling rates of serious diseases and cancer, according to local residents.
An eye-opening report released Jan. 8 by Onur Hamzaoğlu, head of the Public Health Department at Kocaeli University, found high levels of metals in mothers’ breast milk and babies’ feces in Dilovası.
Although Hamzaoğlu reported the quantities of heavy metals present in mothers’ breast milk and babies’ feces were abnormally high, Eyüp Acar, a Kocaeli parliamentary deputy representing the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and Ercan Topaca, the Kocaeli governor, publicly denied the results of the report, saying the situation in the district was not abnormal.
But Yakup Tekeş, another Dilovası resident, said he became curious about problems after his father’s death.
“My father suffered from cirrhosis. … I asked doctors whether he fell ill because we are living in Dilovası,” he said, adding that although his father was not an alcoholic, doctors told him that his lungs and liver were full of “sand.”
“My son also suffers from asthma,” he said.
One in three deaths between 1995 and 2004 in the district was due to cancer, according to a study conducted by Kocaeli University’s medicine faculty’s health department, a record for cancer deaths in any Turkish region. A research committee at the Turkish Parliament was appointed to examine the situation in Dilovası in 2006, but despite its recommendations for keeping the number of industrial enterprises limited, the number has increased radically since then.
[HH] Civil society groups advocate solutions
In response to the health problems in the area, residents in the area are planning to block the nearby Anatolia Highway to draw attention to their plight.
Members of civil society organizations, however, suggest that people in Dilovası should adopt a more proactive response to the problems.
“It is impossible to deny that there are health concerns in Dilovası. However, we should also talk about solutions, rather than continuously [complain] about concerns,” said Ercan Teker, an executive board member of the Dilovası Ecology and Health Association.
Teker said it was also counterproductive for people to call the town ‘Kanserovası’ – a popular pun on the district’s name that combines the words for “cancer” and “Dilovası.”
“Those who can are leaving, thus making Dilovası smaller and smaller; that is in the interest of those who want to totally transform the town into an industrial area,” he said.
Teker said the association’s demands were clear: “Let no other industrial organizations be established in the region, the capacity is obviously being increased. Moreover, [we want] the existing industrial organizations to abide by international standards. Controls must be held more often and punishment must be a deterrent.”
He also said housing projects that prevented chaotic urbanization had to be designed and implemented in the region.
Industrialization started in the 1960s in Dilovası. There are now five organized industrial regions, one industrial site, 193 industrial organizations and more than 20,000 employees in the region. The population of the town, through which the E-5 and TEM highways also pass, is about 45,000.