A family was found dead on Thursday in Istanbul, reports Turkish daily Today’s Zaman, after carbon monoxide fumes from their coal-fired heating stove leaked out and poisoned them.
Since 2002, carbon monoxide poisoning has claimed approximately 350 lives in Turkey, according to Turkish Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin. In the southern province of Gaziantep alone, 2,771 residents were exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning last year, with 21 dying as a result.
The culprit: Coal
Carbon monoxide fumes can escape from any stove where the coal has not fully combusted, according to Şule Aydın, associate professor in the Uludağ University Faculty of Medicine, in Bursa.
In the form of a colorless gas, carbon monoxide enters the bloodstream after being inhaled and causes headaches, vomiting, dizziness, unconsciousness, respiratory issues, and skin-pinkening before death, which comes quickly if the condition is not treated immediately.
Since coal is cheaper than natural gas, however, many of Turkey’s poorest residents are forced to burn it to stay warm during the winter. Unsurprisingly, carbon monoxide poisoning cases and deaths are highest in Turkey’s colder central and eastern regions, such as Gaziantep.
In towns across Gaziantep, the government distributed 5,000 carbon monoxide detectors to residents this year. Across Turkey, local governments have also tried to spread awareness about how to avoid the deadly leaks, urging residents to keep coal out of their stoves at night, keep the room containing the heater well-ventilated, and not stockpile coal for long periods of time.
More bad side effects than just carbon monoxide
Coal already has a bad reputation in Turkey. Huge protests have erupted over the past several years against coal-fired power plants being built across Turkey. One of the biggest took place in the Black Sea town of Gerze a little over a year ago.
Most recently, Turkey earned the infamous “Fossil of the Day” award at the United Nations climate change talks in Doha, largely because of its attitude toward coal. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız declared 2012 the “year of coal” in Turkey — a rather redundant focus for a country that already has the world’s fourth largest number of coal mines and planned coal-fired power plants.
The effort to get Turkey off coal once and for all should begin in homes, however, where coal-fired stoves are putting thousands of residents in mortal danger each year.
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Image via Edgar Zuniga Jr.