Cancer, pollution plague Turkey’s industrial hub of Kocaeli - Der Spiegel

The soaring number of factories that have transformed the Turkey’s northwestern province of Kocaeli into the country’s industrial zone, have come at the cost of environmental disaster and high rates of cancer and other maladies, German magazine Der Spiegel online said.

Once a pristine land spanning land between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, Kocaeli is now home to some 2,000 industrial firms, including German companies such as Bayer and Siemens, the article recalled.

Hosting a significant portion of the Turkish manufacturing industry, Kocaeli boasts sales of $10 billion worth of goods in the January-June period of this year alone.

Istanbul aside, the region enjoys the country’s highest per-capita GDP, however, nowhere else in Turkey is the air so polluted and risk of dying from cancer so high, it said.

Water samples extracted from the region’s Dilovası river by the European Investigative Collaboration (EIC) reveal high concentrations of iron, nickel and phosphorous, among other metals and chemicals.

A 2005 study by a former professor of medicine at the University of Kocaeli, Onur Hamzaoğlu, and the article said, found that the risk of dying from cancer in his hometown was more than twice as high as in the rest of the country. 

The findings prompted a Turkish parliamentary commission in 2007 recommended declaring the region a "health disaster zone," Der Spiegel said. However, the Turkish government headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has only ramped up the region’s industrialisation.

"We are like a third world country," Ismail Sami, founder of the non-governmental organisation Ekos-Der, told Der Spiegel. "Anyone can come here and produce at our expense."

While the first companies settled in Kocaeli in the 1960s, the article said, it was with Erdogan's rise to power in 2003 that the industrialisation of the region began to gain traction. 

The Turkish president has granted billions in tax breaks in the last decade to companies that settled in the region.

Organisations like the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have supported the international companies in the region, Der Spiegel said, with no concerns regarding the consequences for the people of Kocaeli.

"Just imagine us coming to your country, building factories and polluting the air. You would never allow such a thing," says Hayriye Ödemis, a young local mother who suffers from asthma, told the German magazine.