TSHK launches plan to prevent asbestos exposure

TSHK launches plan to  prevent asbestos exposure

The asbestos-laden ship Otapan caused great controversy in 2006 when it was brought to Turkey for dismantling. (PHOTO sunday’s zaman)

April 21, 2013, Sunday/ 14:48:00/ İLYAS KOÇ

The Ministry of Health has prepared a strategic action plan to prevent asbestos exposure in rural and industrial areas.

The plan, which was launched under the leadership of National Public Health Institution of Turkey (TSHK) and will be implemented in 437 villages in 30 cities, aims to keep 90,000 people from exposure to asbestos and to minimize the risk of contracting asbestos-related fatal diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. It is expected that 2,847 people who have been exposed to asbestos for the last 20 years will be diagnosed with respiratory insufficiency, while 45,212 people will suffer from pleural abnormalities, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

In the past, asbestos used to be considered a very effective insulation material in water pipelines and ship building, as well as in the construction and auto repair sectors. However, it is hazardous for people’s health as exposure to it can lead to cancer or other medical complications.

A cabinet resolution accepted in 2010 has made the use of asbestos strictly forbidden. However, within the 30 years before 2010, 500,000 tons of asbestos have been imported to Turkey, and this amount of asbestos still enters contact with people’s daily lives as well as industrial production.

Asbestos exposure still remains a great health risks in Turkey. Many old ships that have been dismantled contain asbestos, and according to data provided by the Ship Recyclers’ Association of Turkey, 238 ships were taken apart in 2010.  Although the import of asbestos was banned in 2010, in rural parts of Turkey asbestos, which villages call “aktoprak”(white soil), is used as insulation material for fixing leaky roofs and painting and finishing walls -- even though the use of the material can cause many fatal diseases. State authorities claim that about 1 million people living in rural areas are exposed to asbestos.

The Ministry of Health has prepared an “Asbestos Control Action Plan” in order to prevent people’s exposure to asbestos in rural areas and in industrial production. In the initial phase of the project, soil samples from various villages will be collected. The project will be carried out with the cooperation of 25 universities, four training and research hospitals, two occupational diseases hospitals, 41 lecturers form several universities, four specialist doctors and four scientists form abroad.

Soil samples will be collected by the TSHK from the villages and workplaces where direct asbestos exposure is suspected in order to determine the level of the material present in the soil. The samples will be analyzed by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK). Medical rehabilitation for patients with asbestos-related diseases will be provided and campaigns raising public awareness will be launched. Family physicians will be trained in early detection and treatment of pleural abnormalities.

Safety commissions for preventing asbestos exposure in workplaces will be established and workplaces will be inspected to minimize asbestos exposure. It is hoped that by the end of the project thousands of asbestos-related fatal diseases will be prevented. Researches are optimistic that they will have the ability to diagnose some 7,600 mesothelioma and 3,000 lung cancer cases at an early stage, thus allowing the patients to be able to receive effective treatments in time. If the project becomes successful and asbestos exposure in industrial and rural areas is eliminated by the end of 2013, TL 30 million in medical care costs would be saved -- and TL 360 million in medical care costs spent on intensive and home care of asbestos-related diseases for the next 20 years could also be saved.

Mud-brick village houses contaminated with asbestos will be overhauled

Asbestos exposure in rural areas will be prevented with five steps. As a first step, mud-brick village houses will be painted and finished with plastic paint. Then the roof of the village houses will be covered with plastic roof panels. The lands contaminated with asbestos in or near the village will be covered with suitable soil and vegetation will be provided for the land. Abandoned houses that are contaminated with asbestos will be demolished, taking necessary precautions. If the soil tracks in the villages are contaminated, these roads will be covered with gravel.

Professor Muzaffer Metintaş from Eskişehir Osmangazi University’s Faculty of Medicine noted asbestos exposure is a serious public health issue because it is used as an insulation material in rural areas of Turkey. Underlining that corrugated asbestos is being broken up by villagers wearing no protection, Metintaş stressed that the villagers are breathing in asbestos and harming their health. If the project becomes successful, he believes an important public health problem will be solved. Metintaş added that the project can become a model for the rest of the world.

Metintaş listed the following provinces where the project will be implemented: İstanbul, Eskişehir, Ankara, Sivas, Konya, Kayseri, Elazığ, Diyarbakır, Gaziantep, Adana, Bursa, İzmir, Denizli, Çanakkale, Tokat, Hatay, Kütahya, Afyon, Antalya, Kahramanmaraş, Burdur, Bilecik, Çankırı, Çorum, Yozgat, Adıyaman, Şanlıurfa.

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