Gold mining in Turkey has been a subject of discussion since the establishment of the Bergama Ovacik mine in 2001. There are differences of opinion among mining engineers in Turkey, which is one of the countries where most gold mines are being made on the European continent.
On the one hand, it is said that mining methods, which are the order of the day with the use of various toxic substances such as cyanide, pose a risk to human health and the balances of ecosystems are threatened because their effects last for many years.
On the other hand, it is stated that with good management and control practices, gold mining can be carried out safely and damaged fields can be repaired.
The number of mining license applications in Turkey since 2012 is over 20,000 and the number of exploration licenses issued during this period is around 19,000.
So what are the effects of gold mining on the environment and human health? Is it possible to mine with ecological methods? What is the content of Turkey’s mining policies in the fight against the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity? bbc turkish asked the experts.
The impact on the ecology is in question at all stages, from research to analysis.
Gold mining has returned to center stage in recent weeks with the Kapakler Gold Mine, which has been operating in the İliç region of Erzincan since 2010, but recently wanted to increase its capacity.
Anagold Madencilik Sanayi ve Ticaret AŞ’s growth applications, whose environmental impact assessment (EIA) was positive, are reassessed with the lawsuit filed by the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects ( TMMOB). The results of the expertise held in recent weeks are awaited.
On the other hand, an EIA assessment meeting was held for Altıntepe mine in Fatsa district of Ordu, which requested a similar capacity increase, and the company’s request was rejected.
According to the Gold Miners Association, there are 19 active gold mines in Turkey. Over the past 22 years, over 421 tons of gold have been produced.
Experts say the ecological destruction began with exploration and drilling studies conducted in the first place to determine the location of gold particles, sometimes invisible to the naked eye, in rocks. He says the methods of decomposition with chemicals and the interaction of mining waste with nature follow.
bbc turkishSpeaking to TEMA Foundation, the head of environmental policy and international relations department, Eylem Tuncaelli, said that the forest area allocated for mineral exploration and exploitation in Turkey between 2012 and 2018 is 65,884. hectares.
Tuncaelli says many parts of the country have been allowed to mine, where forests and fertile agricultural areas have been destroyed.
Tuncaelli says, “79% of the Kaz Mountains region is under threat from the fourth group mining licenses, which also contain gold. Since the early 2000s, companies in the region have submitted more than 30 cyanide gold mining projects to the relevant ministries.
Water resources are polluted, running out
Tuncaelli explains that as a result of the excavations carried out in the areas where mining activities began, the direction of groundwater flow changed and the amount of water decreased.
Tuncaelli says: “Today, people living near the mining projects of Ordu, Fatsa and Kütahya Kışladağ can only access the drinking water necessary for their vital needs with the water from the carboy they carry. at her’s”.
Saying in the EIA report of the Kirazlı Gold Mine in the Kaz Mountains region that the mine is expected to consume 2 million cubic meters of water during the 6-year period that it will remain in operation, Tuncaelli states that this figure is equal to the daily water consumption of 10 million 500 thousand people.
long term effects
Some experts claim that interventions in mining operations cause unexpected interactions and reactions in nature, while the use of chemicals leads to irreversible effects.
Speaking to BBC Turkish, Cemalettin Küçük, a metallurgical engineer and member of TMMOB, said that one of the biggest problems is that the piles of waste from the excavated areas, rising up to meters, are forming l acid with the interaction of water and air, and it can take 10 years for the effects to be visible in some places.
Claiming that today 25 tons of rock have to be moved in certain places to reach a single gram of gold, Küçük claims that these mountains of waste are left as they are when mining activities end and become toxic.
Saying that this cannot be a sustainable method, Küçük continues:
“For example, when the gold mine started working in Uşak Eşme, it rained heavily and completely changed the chemical structure on the surface of the mountain of waste. This caused people to be poisoned. They planted an almond tree at the foot of the waste mountain in the Erzincan Kapakler mine. After 3 years, this tree is drying out.”
Saying that in recent years, gold mining activities in regions such as Bergama and Uşak have negatively affected agriculture, endemic biodiversity and human health and life, Küçük says that TMMOB asked experts to represent and evaluate all these areas during the expert tour held in Erzincan, but this request was rejected.
Küçük says: “Mining companies establish their activities without assessing the sociological effects and public health risks of mining activities. However, these are factors that need to be tracked for a long time.
“We can’t talk about the Bakırçay plain near Bergama these days. It was the place where cotton, tobacco, olive oil and sunflower oil were most concentrated in Turkey , and none of them exist anymore. The villagers, on the other hand, started emigrating from the area after working as laborers in the mines,” he says.
According to the Chamber of Mining Engineers, approximately 85% of global gold production uses cyanide. Experts say cyanide is the most effective and economical method.
After the ore obtained from the rock is cyanidated during the mining process and the gold it contains is separated, the remaining cyanide waste is purified with water and kept in the waste pond to be reused.
However, some experts claim that cyanide cannot be completely removed from waste and mixes with sewage tanks, claiming that the slightest accident in these pools can have very dangerous consequences.
Although mining companies claim that these pools are managed with great care, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), more than 40 serious tailings dam accidents have occurred in the past 10 years, from hundreds of people were injured and there was no access to drinking water. has been completed.
The Trabzon branch of the Chamber of Geological Engineers, on the other hand, determined that more than 4,500 tonnes of chemical waste spilled into the environment with the explosion of a mine waste pool in Giresun in November. 2021, in Turkey.
Environmental activists at the Erzincan Kapakler gold mine say the slightest accident in the waste pond can poison the nearby Euphrates.
On the other hand, mining engineers claim that when cyanide comes in contact with rocks, it also activates toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and zinc, and they express concern about the high risk to the environment and human health.
Cemalettin Küçük explains that such a case had already occurred in the Kışladağ gold mine in Uşak, and that arsenic was detected in a nearby drinking water installation after the cyanide used in the mine has dissolved the heavy metals in the rocks.
Speaking to BBC Turkish and an academic in the field of mining engineering, Dr. Caner Zanbak, on the other hand, says that mines are safe if managed and inspected properly.
Zanbak says the cyanide use limit, which is 10 parts per million in the United States, is 2 in Turkey.
“The water sent to the waste pond in Turkey is analyzed by mining companies and the environment ministry for substances such as cyanide, nitrogen and sulfuric acid,” Zanbak explains.
“When the water in the waste pool evaporates or is released back to the air by an evaporator, the cyanide disappears after two meters in the air, it is not even visible.”
Zanbak, who agrees that environmental disasters can occur if mines are not managed properly, gives the example of the collapse of the sewage dam in Romania in 2000, which was not treated with cyanide, in winter conditions and mixing with stream water in the area, causing mass fish kills.
However, Zanbak adds that cyanide degrades in nature and nature can repair itself once its effect wears off.
public health problem
Residents of Erzincan Kapakler and Fatsa Altıntepe mines are demanding the closure of businesses on the grounds that chemicals used in mining activities are beginning to affect their health and there is an increase in disease rates.
Speaking to BBC Turkish, Professor of Public Health at Bursa Uludağ University Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Kayıhan Pala says that mining activities cause environmental pollution responsible for 23% of deaths worldwide.
Pala says that health problems caused by mining, which causes the spread of dust, solid waste, heavy metals, dirty liquids and toxic gases in the environment, are not systematically monitored in Turkey, therefore, there is no clear data on this issue.
Pala says illnesses occur but cannot be tracked due to the lack of a public monitoring and evaluation system.
“Our data is limited to the health issues that would arise if an accident were to occur at these mines, and the conclusions of the researchers,” says Pala.
We are beginning to see the long term effects of some mines that started in the past and continue to this day.
teacher. Pala states that according to a study conducted in Balikesir Balya, where lead, zinc and silver mining was practiced in the early 20th century, heavy metal pollution was detected in soils taken from the area after 60 years.
On the other hand, a study on the sulfide ore deposits in Giresun Espiye detects high acidic and metallic properties in water samples taken from the area where the mining waste is located.
Experts say that nowadays most of the gold mined from the earth turns into waste without being used for a long time.
According to research, the amount of gold obtained from e-waste in 2014 was 300 tons.
In this period when the world is facing the dangers of the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity and must review its energy resources, mining policies will certainly remain on the agenda.