ISTANBUL – In Kütahya in West-Turkey environmental organizations and people in villages close to a silver mine fear a disaster from a mud flow of toxic cyanide. Earlier this week an embankment of a waste pit collapsed. Within twenty days an emergency storage pond will be made ready and the danger will come to an end, a mine spokesperson says. Some villagers are reported to have left their homes to be on the safe side.
Last Saturday an embankment of a huge waste cistern collapsed at the Eti Gümüs silver company. The embankment was a separation wall between two of four compartments in the cistern and its collapse caused pressure to build up on the other embankments. Villagers living nearby demanded the closure of the factory, but the authorities didn’t see a need for that: they have been claiming all week that there is nothing to worry about. Environmental organisations think differently: Greenpeace called for the evacuation of four villages to avoid possible deaths.
Cyanide is used in extracting and refining silver, and is very poisonous. If the cistern were to collapse, a toxic mud flow would result. Ilhan Taninli, professor in environmental engineering at Istanbul Technical University, says: ‘About 20 to 25 million tonnes of toxic slush would drain away and that would certainly be disastrous. There is not only cyanide in the slush, but heavy metals as well.’
If the slush is not kept under control, a very toxic cyanide gas could be produced. That disperses quickly in air, but breathing it in can be lethal. Besides that, the ground water would be polluted and the soil around the factory would be covered in a layer of toxic mud. The factory claims the soil is owned by them and by the state and is not used for agriculture, but villagers are not convinced that the land they use to graze their cattle won’t be affected.
Dr. Tarik Dogru, technical manager at Eti Gümüs, admits that the collapse of the embankment raised the risk of a disaster. ‘We are working extra hard now to finish a new cistern that we will bring into full use within twenty days. In the meantime inspections are being done continuously. The inspections show that the construction is solid enough now. The rain of the last couple of days didn’t help the situation, but the rain has stopped now and the next few days will be sunny.’
The provincial government of Kütahya decided not to evacuate the four villages most at risk.