In most of the world, mesothelioma is an extremely rare type of lung cancer that accounts for less than one of every 100,000 deaths. However, in the Turkish region of Cappadocia, instances of death related to malignant mesothelioma hover at an astonishing rate of 48 percent.
Mesothelioma has been linked to the inhalation of asbestos fibers – a naturally occurring mineral that is used in a variety of heat-resistant products. A similarly fibrous material – erionite – is abundant in the Cappadocia region and has been used for decades as a resource for building homes and roadways.
Unfortunately, the frequent use of erionite in the Cappadocia region has exposed most of the residents to hazardous levels of this toxic material. The towns most dramatically affected by the fiber include Tuzkoy, Sarihidir and Karain.
While erionite is found in a number of regions globally (for example, Nevada), “the cancerous material is generally found far deep underground,” according to Izzetin Baris (a retired professor with a long history of mesothelioma research). “In Turkey, however, it is very close to the surface.”
Look at the numbers, and it becomes evident that, “The number of cases of mesothelioma in Tuzkoy has been about 600 to 800 times higher than world standards,” says Murat Tuncer of the Turkish Health Ministry department.
Due to these alarming numbers, government authorities have initiated a relocation plan to move all 2,350 remaining residents of Tuzkoy to a nearby location. As with the 250 families that have already been relocated, the costs associated with the move will be subsidized by the state. The new housing facility is located approximately one mile away from the current city’s location.
While this relocation is believed to move Tuzkoy villagers properly out of harm’s way, officials are still unsure about plans to demolish the current city. Present plans suggest the entire village will be demolished, buried in a thick layer of uncontaminated earth and then re-planted. However, other ideas include paving over the city with asphalt or doing nothing and simply prohibiting entry into the area.
Sadly, the knowledge of environmental hazards in Tuzkoy has been known for quite some time. In fact, relocation efforts first began back in 1999. However, little progress has been made thanks to various government difficulties and financial constraints.
Currently, government authorities hope the relocation will be completed by 2012. Even when such relocation occurs, however, a decline of cancer rates may not be noted for decades – mesothelioma often does not manifest until 20 to 50 years following initial exposure.