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26.12.2006

Dark cloud covers nation’s cities

Old cars and low-quality coal are seen as the main culprits behind the clouds of pollution covering Turkey's urban areas

Environment and Forestry Ministry Undersecretary Mustafa Öztürk said on Monday that air pollution in and around Turkey's cities had reached dangerous levels with the coming of winter, noting that the low-quality coal used by households and industry coupled with old cars that were not environmentally friendly were the main reasons urban areas were suffering.

Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Öztürk said they would be taking precautions to address the pollution issue, calling on local Environment and Forestry Ministry branches, municipalities and traffic police to act. "The sale of low-quality coal should be halted, and cars that pollute the environment should be taken off the road," he said.

When asked about claims that the municipality of Ankara was distributing inferior coal to the poor, Öztürk said: "No municipality in Turkey can sell or give away low-quality coal. If they do, they will face legal consequences."

Coal use definite cause for pollution, but...

Dr. Ümit Şahin from the Doctors for Environment Association told TDN rise in sulfur and particles in the air definitely pointed to pollution was caused by burning of low quality coal.

However, he noted that as the use of natural gas, for both heating and industrial purposes, increased in cities, the chief protagonists for pollution had become vehicles and meteorological factors, such as inversion.

He said inversion was caused by high pressure over cities during winter and this year's inversion phenomena had lasted longer than usual. "Inversion resulted in preventing the escape of particles."

Experts said with the coming of rain and snows, the pollution problem in many cities would come to an end.

Municipalities on the defensive:

The increase in pollution with the onset of winter is being blamed on the failure of municipalities to prevent the sale of substandard coal, but mayors from all around the country are trying to find ways to explain the problem some other way.

Antalya Mayor Menderes Türel, faced with accusations that geographically Antalya should be the last city to have a pollution problem, said: "I can't say there is no air pollution because I can see it with my own eyes, but I am saying that the pollution we see is not as dangerous as it appears."

Türel blamed the problem on a meteorological phenomenon known as "inversion" and said it did not constitute a health hazard. He said they were constantly testing the air for pollution and that none of the figures were beyond allowable limits.

Local meteorology chief Mehmet Arandı said the inversion phenomenon would be dangerous when the fog dropped below 100 meters but added that in Antalya's history, the fog had never been below 500 meters.

Erzurum's Deputy Governor Hanlar İden also blamed meteorological factors for the increase in pollution. "Pollution increased in December due to high pressure and almost no wind. However, we are doing everything in our power to decrease the pollution," he said.

The main human factor in the increase in pollution was rising fuel consumption in winter, said İden.

Assistant Professor Nuhi Demircioğlu of Erzurum Atatürk University's Environmental Problem Research Center told Anatolia that despite a 20 percent growth in natural gas use compared to 2005 in the province of Erzurum, the pollution levels for December had increased by 5 percent over last year. "We expected some drop in pollution due to natural gas use; however, meteorological factors are also contributing to the problem."

Kütahya Mayor Mustafa İça also noted his surprise with the failure of the increase in the use of natural gas in alleviating the pollution problem. "Despite the considerable increase in the use of natural gas since 2004, there is a substantial increase in pollution levels every year."

He said their efforts to address the pollution problem had resulted in a sharp drop in pollution levels last year but added: "The particle content in the air was 97 last year. Now it is 273. Sulfur dioxide content has increased from 105 to 169."

He called on people to use good-quality coal if they did not use natural gas for heating purposes, noting that their inspections around the city would continue.

Giving low-quality coal to villagers:

While the rest of the country is grappling with the problem of inferior coal flooding the market and what to do with it after seizing the coal, Ağrı has come up with a novel solution to the problem.

Speaking to Anatolia, Ağrı Governor Halil İbrahim Akpınar said they were giving the low-quality coal they seized in the city to a village school in rural Ağrı. The governor admitted that pollution was a serious problem in the province and called on people to respect the environment. "The pollution is due to the use of low-quality coal. We are seizing it when we find it."

He said the use of substandard coal in the center of the city was causing pollution but that there was no such problem in the villages.