Polluted Air Takes More Lives Than Traffic Accidents
The veto of article 50 which includes the postponement of investments required for filter systems in coal thermal power plants by President Erdoğan was an unexpected decision and it created an overwhelming impression. We’ve discussed the details of the subject with Clean Air Right Platform Coordinator Buket Atlı and Turkish Medical Association Public Health Branch Executive Board Member Associate Professor Gamze Varol. By reminding that humans can only live six minutes without air, Atlı emphasizes the importance of fresh air.
Clean Air Rights Platform (THH), established by 16 non-governmental organizations working in the field of environment and health to protect the right to breathe clean air, has been carrying out studies since 2015.
Clean Air Rights Platform Coordinator Buket Atlı starts by emphasizing the importance of clean air and saying that although humans are able to withstand hunger for six weeks and thirst for six days, they can only live six minutes without air.
“As a platform, we are focusing our capacity mostly on the prevention of new coal-fired power plants. However, when it has come to the extension of the incentives to be granted to operating coal thermal power plants that have been privatized since 2013, we have started to follow this issue as well. ”
Details of the Road to Article 50 from 2013 to Today
Atlı explains the given durations for installing chimney filters in thermal power plants and the subsequent developments with all details, item by item:
“Coal thermal power plants over 30 years old and that have been privatized have not made the necessary investments for the protection of the environment and public health such as flue gas desulfurization plants, filter systems or ash dams since 2013. Earlier, the companies were repeatedly granted time to make investments in order Turkey’s at least 15 dirtiest power plants not to pollute the air. In the 6 years since 2013;
-In 2014, the Constitutional Court found it unconstitutional for these power plants to spread air pollution in accordance with the 56th article of the Constitution, “the right to live in a healthy environment” and canceled the permission granted until 2021.
-As a result of the new legal arrangement made in 2015, these power plants were finally given time until the end of December 31, 2019. In the Constitutional Court decision taken in 2017, it was required these plants to make the necessary investments by the end of 2019.
-In February 2019 came the legislative proposal for the Regulation on Mining Law and Other Laws known as Article 45, and as a result of the public reaction, with the joint decision of Justice and Development Party, Nationalist Movement Party, İYİ Party, the Republican People’s Party and the Peoples’ Democratic Party, this regulation was withdrawn. Representatives of all political parties defended that these plants should make the necessary investments by the end of 2019.
-With the decision taken in the planning and budget commission on November 1, 2019, a new Bag Law article, Article 50 had carried the proposal for exemption from environmental investments to the Parliament for the fourth time in order to extend the privileges given to dirty plants by 2.5 years until the end of June 2022. In the General Assembly of the Turkish Grand National Assembly dated 21 November 2019, Article 50 was approved in the parliament with 217 votes against 36.”
At this point, Atlı leads up to the unexpectedly incoming veto: “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vetoed the article which extends the environmental exemption of the thermal power plants for another 2.5 years by saying that the objective of meeting the energy needs of our country should not get ahead of the protection of human health and the environment, and sent it back to the Assembly for discussion. Article 50 was removed and the Bag Law was accepted again.”
“Gathered 100 thousand signatures has been effective”
The platform continued its efforts in all these processes in order to create a public opinion. 100 thousand signatures that have been collected with the support of non-governmental organizations for almost a year, the visits, calls and social media posts of citizens living in cities such as Çanakkale, Kahramanmaraş, Muğla, Manisa, Zonguldak, Sivas and Kütahya, as well as parliamentarians from all parties by demanding to breathe clean air and showing pictures of dirty air they had been exposed to have been pretty effective as well. Thus, we have witnessed that the demand of fresh air of civil society organizations and citizens working both locally, nationally and internationally can be heard by all decision makers.”
Following the veto of Article 50, the Minister of Environment and Urbanization Murat Kurum stated that the plants will be inspected and their deficiencies will be determined in December, and penalties will be applied to those who do not comply with the environmental legislation as of January 1, 2020.
However, Atlı says that they do not have enough data to follow up on the next process: “As non-governmental organizations, we received an answer as we had to ask the companies for our applications for information about the conditions of the investments that the plants make such as flue gas filters or ash dams in order to comply with the environmental legislation. For this reason, we do not have enough data to follow this process. We demand that the results of the inspections by the Ministry be transparently shared with the public, and we will continue to follow up on the fines. “
“Firms were given the freedom to pollute the environment”
Atlı, whom we had asked how the veto would affect the new thermal power plants to be opened and if it would constitute a precedent after that, states that different limits are determined for the new and existing industrial facilities:
“It is the Industrial Air Pollution Control Regulation (SKHKKY) which determines the criteria for the establishment and operation of air polluting facilities and the permits to be obtained from the competent authorities. In an article written by a member of Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects and Mechanical Engineer Orhan Aytaç who is as well a member of the Chamber of Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group, he compares the applied regulations of Turkey and the European Union (EU). Different limits have been determined for the new and existing industrial facilities. As Aytaç states, the transactions related to the legal arrangements due to privatizations in Turkey being extended and then the time allowed for them to comply with the environmental legislations paved the way for production in public or customized plants without environmental protection measures and even without running the current environmental protection facilities (ESF, BGKA etc.). In other words, the companies have been given the freedom “to pollute the environment” for a long time.”
“The World Should Quit Generating Energy From Fossil Fuels”
Atlı underlines that none of the filters completely absorbs the emitted gases and pollution and does not prevent greenhouse gas emissions and says: “It is not possible to have clean coal technology in any way, and considering the threat posed by the climate crisis for the whole world, generating electricity from fossil fuels is a technology that must be abandoned.”
Atlı says that the veto has been a positive decision, and they hope that the plans for the closure of these power plants and the creation of other sources of energy and employment will begin in the coming period.
According to the data Atlı states, the situation of the air pollutants other than thermal power plants in Turkey is not encouraging: “Environment and air pollution measurements made at the stations set up by the Ministry Of Environment And Urbanization can be monitored live through its website, and all the measurements made all over the World including Turkeys can be monitored live on this (buradaki) site. Although the limit values determined with the legal legislation for other pollutants PM10 and SO2 in our country are harmonized with the European Union, they are above the guidelines recommended by WHO in terms of health. The analysis made by using the official measurement data of the Black Report published by the Right of Clean Air Platform demonstrates that the annual average PM10 of the 96.3 percent of the stations of 163 where enough measurements were made in 2018 in Turkey is dirty above the WHO limits.”
Atlı states the severity of the situation by saying: “According to the same report, if air pollution in Turkey was decreased to the level that WHO recommended in 2017, the death of about 52,000 people over age 30 years could have been prevented, that is to say, 7 times more deaths than traffic accidents could have been prevented.”
“Air Pollution Is A Public Health Problem”
When the draft passed through the parliament, the Turkish Medical Association made a statement saying, “We call the medical chambers for the evaluation of the physician congressmen who approve this article in the Assembly in the honor committees “.
Turkish Medical Association Public Health Branch Executive Board Member Assoc. Dr. Gamze Varol explains this process by saying: “As members of a certified profession and a professional organization who advocate life in the light of scientific evidence as well as being the representative of these members, we invited the medical chambers to the duty to evaluate the congressmen in the honor committee who approve to this article by contradicting with their oath or do not comply with the rules of professional occupational ethics and avoid good physician practices instead of defending health and health rights in every environment. At this point, support responses and positive messages came from medical chambers. As TMA Central Council, we support the initiatives of our chambers.
“Air Pollution Problem In Turkey Is In A Grave Condition”
To Varol, air pollution is a major problem all over the world, but in Turkey its beyond that stage, it’s in a grave condition: “Considering the limit values of the World Health Organization, 96% of the population of the country breathes polluted air. Moreover, even according to the air quality index values of our country, the air is dirty. Our province which has the worst air quality in 2018 is Kahramanmaraş, which came to the agenda with 2 coal-fired thermal power plants and new power plant plans in Afşin – Elbistan district. In the last 3 years in 16 provinces -Afyon, Ankara, Burdur, Bursa, Çorum, Denizli, Erzincan, Mersin, Kahramanmaraş, Manisa, Mardin, Muğla, Niğde, Osmaniye, Sakarya and Sivas- there has been no improvement in air quality and serious air pollution has been experienced.”
Varol conveys the data of the study carried out by Greenpeace Akdeniz Office regarding the health effects of coal thermal power plants, which is one of the main sources of air pollution and says: “Health effects of 10 unfiltered thermal power plants (Yatağan, Kemerköy, Yeniköy, Afşin A, Seyitömer, Tunçbilek, Kangal, Çatalağzı B. and Soma A) were calculated.
According to the calculation, if 10 coal-fired power plants will not make the necessary flue gas investments to comply with environmental legislation for another 2.5 years, cases of 2,860 premature deaths, 1 million 50 lost working days, 7 million 390 sick leaves, 3 thousand 690 hospitalizations, bronchitis in 17.400 children, bronchitis in 2.20 adults, asthma and bronchitis in 156 thousand children can be seen until June 2020.”
Varol emphasizes that veto will not suddenly destroy or significantly reduce the effects of power plants: “Considering that it was requested to give exemption to at least 15 coal-fired power plants within the scope of Article 50, we can easily predict that these figures will increase. In the current situation, the necessity to begin the initiatives required to build the filters does not mean that there will be no premature deaths or that it will not continue to cause climate change due to the release of greenhouse gases from the plants. Therefore, the power plants will continue to affect public health negatively. Because, as I just mentioned, our air, water, soil are already dirty and there is a burden of disease caused by this pollution. According to the Black Report published by the Clean Air Rights Platform in 2019, the number of deaths attributed to air pollution in Turkey which occurred in 2017 other than accidents and external injuries, an average of 51.574 deaths over 30 years of age has been calculated in total 399.025 deaths. The provinces with the highest percentage of deaths due to air pollution in 2017 were Iğdır, Kahramanmaraş and Afyon, respectively. In summary, our country no longer tolerates pollution.”
“Air Pollution Affects Even The Baby In The Womb”
Varol says air pollution is a public health problem that needs to be addressed quickly: “Thermal power plants pollute water and soil especially the air with toxic substances. These poisonous substances enter our body through our skin and / or food chain, that is, with our food, as well as with breathing. This situation causes acute or chronic poisoning primarily through heavy metals accumulating in the body, causing serious diseases by affecting the respiratory system, heart and circulatory system, brain and nervous system and even reproductive system. It even affects the unborn babies. We also know that some of these pollutants are carcinogenic, that is, they cause cancer. Evidence produced in scientific studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2013 suggests that outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and increases the risk of developing bladder cancer, and therefore air pollution was put into the list of cancer-causing factors as Group I (Definitive carcinogens). (Table 1)
Gamze Varol finally lists the agenda topics of the Turkish Medical Association: “Kaz mountains, gold mining, health services in earthquakes, floods and extraordinary situations, war and migration, Akkuyu Nuclear power plants report, Hopa Report, Chernobyl Report, Dilovası Report, social cost in energy and renewable energy sources reports are some of the study titles and related reports. Numerous studies published recently under the Clean Air Rights Platform, especially the Black Report should also be counted here. Lately, TMA made a policy proposal on the 23-26th of October 2019 at the World Medical Association General Assembly in Tbilisi Georgia, on the Protection of Future Generations’ Right to Live in a Healthy Environment and on including policies that support climate change within the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the policy proposal, as a binding sanction mechanism, ICC was asked to judge the crime of causing climate change as a crime against humanity. In addition, with a joint decision at the General Assembly, with the Emergency Declaration of the Climate Crisis, physicians were called upon to prevent the life-threatening effects of the environmental crisis. Detailed information on the subject can also be found on the corporate website of TTB.”