Experts warn of asbestos danger in Turkey quake zone

Experts warn of asbestos danger in Turkey quake zone
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Environmental and medical groups call for precautions against toxic minerals.

By Osman Cakli

Representatives from three professional organizations held a joint press conference in Istanbul to highlight the health risks from asbestos exposure in areas impacted by Turkey's February earthquakes.

Utku Firat, speaking for the Chamber of Environmental Engineers, reported on an investigation in Hatay province in early September. The survey found asbestos in over a third of samples from people's homes. Fırat said basic safety practices were not followed during demolition and cleanup efforts. Asbestos particles can be suppressed by wetting areas down with water. But Fırat said authorities failed to take this simple precaution.

The environmental engineer stressed the danger asbestos poses, especially with so much destruction. When inhaled, the toxic mineral can cause lung diseases and cancer. Fırat called on the Health Ministry to monitor the situation and relocate affected residents to safer housing.

Dr. Esin Tuncay, representing the Istanbul Medical Chamber, echoed the need for precautions like masks and wetting down asbestos during demolitions. Tuncay said earthquake victims should not face added health risks from asbestos. She argued similar protections are needed in Istanbul as the city is rebuilding.

Given the overlooked threat, the press conference emphasized that asbestos assessments should be regular. Dr. Haluk Calisir of the Turkish Thoracic Society outlined the serious cancers asbestos can produce in the lungs, throat, and elsewhere. He said all groups warned of high dust levels after the quakes that likely contained the dangerous particles.

While the cancer risks manifest over time, the doctors said intense asbestos exposure can spur immediate vascular problems like heart attacks. With limited data available, the experts called for coordinated action by health agencies and ministries to reduce asbestos hazards. Such efforts are vital to prevent further loss of life after Turkey's deadliest modern disaster.