The aptly titled “Dark Report” from the non-profit Right to Clean Air Platform (THHP) based in Turkey paints a gloomy picture of air pollution in Turkey. The report, based on data from pollution measurement stations, says 13 provinces out of 81 in the country suffered from high levels of air pollution in 2020 – a year when contributions to pollution peaked due to disruptions to daily life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Average annual particulate matter values (PM10) recorded at 97.7% of the 175 measurement stations, exceeded guideline values set by the World Health Organization (WHO), the report says.
Guideline values set a limit on tolerance of air pollutants before it poses a public health risk. Particulate matter is the most comprehensive indicator for air pollution and includes sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. Particles smaller than 10 microns in diameter can penetrate the lungs, endangering human health.
According to the report, air pollution in 45 provinces surpassed national limits in pollutants. Fifteen stations in the provinces of Muş, Iğdır, Malatya and Ağrı in the east, Istanbul, Edirne and Denizli in the west, the capital Ankara, the northern provinces Tokat, Düzce, Sinop and Karabük and the central province of Kayseri indicate they all suffer from high pollution, while only Bitlis and Hakkari, two small provinces in the east, had PM10 below WHO guideline values. The report singles out Muş as having the most polluted air, which “the population has to breathe for 306 days in a year.”
Istanbul, as the country’s most crowded city, prominently figured in the Dark Report, although it boasted a lower PM10 average compared to previous years. Still, the 2020 levels were two times higher than WHO guideline values. Four districts and neighborhoods of the city had levels three times higher level than the WHO limit. These were Mecidiyeköy on the European side of the city, a busy hub of transportation and businesses, the developing suburb Sultangazi, Esenyurt, which has seen a population boom in recent years, and Alibeyköy. In the capital Ankara, air pollution levels recorded by a station in Siteler, an industrial neighborhood dotted with furniture factories, were four times higher than the WHO limits.
In Izmir, the country’s third-largest province, Aliağa fared the worst, with levels more than twice the WHO values. The main pollutants in the industrial hub of Aliağa include a coal-powered plant, factories processing junk metal and petrochemical facilities.
THHP says the increasing number of heat waves Turkey has faced in the last decade has made forest fires more prevalent among the causes of pollution. It gives an example of a fire in Hatay that emitted massive levels of black carbon into the air. Another finding of the report is that coronavirus cases are higher in locations with higher air pollution.
Air pollution weakens the lungs, the main target of COVID-19, which in turn aggravates the cases. THHP Coordinator Buket Atlı says that Turkey must commit to reducing early deaths stemming from air pollution by 55% by 2030 and it needs to declare a strategy against nationwide air pollution, “a great public health problem.”
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