Poison Gas Clouds Threaten Aegean Coast

By Jon Gorvett

ISTANBUL, Turkey, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - Just a few miles inland from Turkey’s popular Aegean beach resorts, a triangle of aging power stations has been ringing environmental alarm bells recently. Local people are being told to stay indoors to escape clouds of poisonous gases.

The fumes come from coal fired power stations at Yatagan - some 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the holiday resort of Bodrum - Yenikoy, and Gokava - on the coast about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of tourist hot spot Marmaris.

Bodrum

Turkish resot of Bodrum (Photos courtesy Turkey in Pictures)
Sulphur dioxide fumes from Yatagan have reached nearly 10 times their legal safety limits, prompting curfews and warnings from local authorities for citizens to stay indoors.

Meanwhile, environmental campaigners are claiming that all three power stations are in fact operating illegally.

The Turkish state electricity board (TEAS) has been running the Yatagan plant since 1982 without any emission permits or controls," says Greenpeace Mediterranean energy campaigner Melda Keskin. "On June 20, 1996, these plants received an order of closure from the Aydin administrative court."

Yet since then, the energy board has continued to operate the three plants.

A variety of medical complaints, mainly respiratory, have also been reported, while the mayor of Yatagan has alleged that central government "has failed to attach any importance to the issue."

Yatagan mayor Hasmet Isik said that 35,000 to 40,000 people have been affected by the poisoning, which has been intensified recently by atmospheric conditions. Temperature inversion has trapped the emissions closer to the ground and in the narrow valleys around the power station.

Marmaris

International tourist destination, Marmaris, Turkey
On December 3, the level of sulphur dioxide in the air reached 3,550 microgrammes per cubic metre, while the legal safety limit is just 400 microgrammes. Local authorities were mobilized to tour the area warning people to stay inside and close doors and windows.

"The streets are completely empty in Yatagan," said Isik.

Local people are planning a series of protests against the central government for its perceived failure to act. Among these is a barefoot walk to the capital, Ankara, several hundred miles away. "Maybe then the administrators will get the message," Isik said.

Authorities say they have taken some steps over the pollution, though. The power station is regularly closed down or put on half output when the pollution levels "become excessive," says an official statement from the local governorate - the provincial authority. Filtration systems are also being installed, the first due to start operation on January 18 next year, with two more due for installation in February and March.

TEAS also claims that the pollution caused by the Yatagan plant will be completely eliminated when a new, $80 million desulphurization plant comes into operation next year.

However, environmentalists say the desulphurization plant will do nothing to remove non-sulphurous toxic emissions, which will still remain high.

An enormous amount of damage has also already been done. The Turkish Forestry Ministry estimates that some 35,810 hectares (88,487 acres) of local forest have been badly damaged by the pollution, for which they have claimed compensation from the Energy Ministry.

The three power stations burn around 40,000 tons of generally poor quality coal a day between them, discharging around 13,000 tons of bottom ash and 150 tons of fly ash, which contains high levels of uranium. In 1994, the nearby city of Mugla underwent a radiation alarm due to heavy clouds of uranium enriched gases that had drifted in from the three surrounding plants.

Izmir

The city of Izmir, Turkey depends for its electrical power on the three polluting power plants.
It was soon afterwards that the court first ordered the plants to shut down. However, they soon reopened without any safety devices being installed. Energy authorities claimed that this was because closure had caused power cuts to vital services and was threatening energy supplies to the city of Izmir.

Yet environmentalists claim that the cuts have been deliberately engineered and that Turkey’s national grid system means that electricity could be brought in from other areas to cover short term closures. They also point to the high loss rate in Turkey from transmission and distribution - about 30 percent - and say that a more efficient use of resources would be to tighten up the existing structure and close down aging coal fired power stations completely.

All three plants are also up for privatization under the Turkish government’s ambitious economic reform program. The national power generation and distribution systems are up for sell off, region by region, a factor which is also bothering workers at the plant, who fear that the stations would be closed down by any private buyer.

"If they poison everything for miles around, who will want to buy them?" asks 54 year old Erol Karadagi from Yatagan. "Then we’ll not only be poisoned by unemployed too."