Dilovasi: Pollution capital

I have a story out on Eurasianet about the grim Turkish town of Dilovasi, where some 45,000 souls share their community with no fewer than 150 factories.

Dilovasi has become notorious as a hub for some of the heaviest, dirtiest industries around. There are, for example, two steel smelting plants that melt down rusty scrap from old ships and military equipment. There are also factories manufacturing paint and various petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Whilst Dilovasi is a fascinating enough industrial dystopia in itself, the reason I went there was to do a story about the scandalous efforts of local politicians to silence a scientist who has been researching the disastrous health effects of the pollution on residents.

Professor Onur Hamzaoglu, head of the Public Health department at Kocaeli University, recently released research showing that toxic elements such as arsenic, mercury and lead present in the air have entered mothers’ breast milk and infants’ faeces.

Dilovasi’s mayor, along with the mayor of Kocaeli, have now filed criminal charges against him, claiming he is trying to ‘spread fear and panic’ with his research. If prosecuted, he could face up to 4 years in prison.

The mayors involved are both from the governing party, and they would not give an interview, I’m guessing because they want to avoid negative publicity ahead of the upcoming elections.

It was frustrating, because their decision to file claims against Professor Hamzaoglu really is confusing. Everyone, including the mayor of Dilovasi who filed the complaint, acknowledges that the town is effectively an industrial disaster zone where a serious clean-up is needed.

The persistence of this kind of legal persecution is one of the most depressing continuities in Turkish society. Whenever the government comes under fire for the prosecution of academics, journalists etc it hides behind respect the legal process and the separation of powers etc.

It would be refreshing if the government would acknowledge for once that the judicial system is utterly dysfunctional in Turkey and in desperate need of reform. The question then would be: Can the AKP be trusted to carry out that reform?

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