When two embankments collapsed at the dam of a silver refinery in the Turkish province of Kütahya, workers began scrambling to keep the cyanide-contaminated water from leaking out of the dam. If it does, environmentalists warn, the accident could become “the most dangerous environmental crisis Turkey has faced thus far.”
A silver mining and refining facility in western Turkey is frantically trying to contain its cyanide-contaminated wastewater after the dam into which it discharges failed last weekend. Two embankments in the three-stage dam of Eti Silver Corporation have collapsed, raising the possibility that its waters will leak beyond the dam and into the water supplies of nearby settlements.
The village of Köprüören, just three kilometers away from the plant, is preparing to evacuate. On Wednesday, some residents of the town staged a protest outside the facility, calling for the closure of “Eti Silver’s poison facilities”.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan happened to be in the area this week, speaking at a series of election rallies in advance of the federal elections this June.
“Necessary precautions have been taken. There is no reason to worry at the current moment,” the prime minister said. “May our fellow Kütahyans, our villagers, worry not. We are monitoring the issue, and everything is under control. Do not worry at all.”
Even as Erdoğan urged locals not to worry, however, environmental scientists have been issuing ever more dire warnings about the possible effects of the dam failure.
Pollution levels in the area could increase 100-fold if any water leaked out, Güven Eken, the chairman of the environmental Doğa (Nature) Association, told the Hürriyet Daily News. She said that Eti Silver’s effort to contain the water by building another dam would not be a permanent solution to the problem.
Cemalettin Küçük, the executive board chairman of Turkey’s official Chamber of Metallurgical Engineers, told villagers at an informational meeting that “this place is at risk every day, hour and second.” And the Council of Turkish Medicine Association issued a written statement saying that the total collapse of the dam’s embankments would pose a fatal threat to the region.
The blase response of the federal government is, sadly, typical of its attitude toward environmental safety. Erdoğan seems intent on pursuing a new canal project in Istanbul, despite the loud criticism it has faced from environmentalists and architects. The government also hasn’t backed down from plans to develop nuclear power in the country, even as the nuclear disaster in Japan grows worse.
Residents of Kütahya will be on edge for the next few weeks, waiting to see if their region of Turkey remains inhabitable or not.
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Image via Today’s Zaman