Turkey is a transcontinental country located mainly in western Asia, with a smaller portion found on the Balkan peninsula of southeastern Europe. It is bordered by other countries such as Greece, Iran and Iraq, being somewhat of a transitional city between Europe and the middle eastern world. It has a long history of many civilizations calling it home, being one of the worlds first permanently settled regions on record.
Nowadays, Turkey finds itself as a rapidly developing country, being a regional power that is home to some 83.1 million people as of 2019, as well as being a newly industrialized country. As such, with any country that is undergoing rapid development, Turkey has many problems with its air quality attributed to this massive economic growth as well as the emergence of urban infrastructure. In 2019, Turkey came in with PM2.5 readings of 20.62 μg/m³, putting it into the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 to be classified as such.
Whilst having a moderate rating of pollution is not outright disastrous, it is indicative that many of its cities have some fair problems with their pollution levels, which will be examined in more detail. This reading of 20.62 μg/m³ put it into 43rd place out of all countries worldwide, coming in just behind Israel and Cambodia, which both had 2019 average readings of 20.83 μg/m³ and 21.10 μg/m³ respectively.
Whilst Turkey’s yearly average over 2019 was in the mid-range of its moderate classification, it shows that there are large discrepancies between the cities registered for air quality readings. There was a large amount that came in with readings within the World Health Organizations (WHO) target goal of 0 to 10 μg/m³ for many months of the year, whilst there were also many that came in with exceedingly high pollution level readings. To give an example, the most polluted city in Turkey, Lalapasa, came in with a yearly average of 53.8 μg/m³, putting in the 102nd position out of most polluted cities worldwide.
This is a very high reading by any standard, and the city had some months come in with exceptionally bad air quality, such as January with a massive PM2.5 reading of 124.4 μg/m³, putting it well into the higher end of the ‘unhealthy’ ratings bracket, which requires a reading of anywhere between 55.5 to 150.4 μg/m³.
This is indicative that Turkey has problems with many of its cities, seeing elevated pollution levels such as this come in at certain times of the year, only being offset with the respite of several of its cities coming in with considerably cleaner air. As it stands, in recent years air pollution has become more of a prominent topic in Turkey, and for a good reason due to some very high readings coming in across the country, as well as an estimated 30 thousand people dying annually from pollution related illnesses, accounting for 8% of all deaths nationwide.
Turkey has a number of causes for its elevated levels of air pollution, with some being more pertinent than others. As with all rapidly developing countries, there will be a large amount of particulate matter stemming from construction sites and repair work occurring, raising the levels of PM2.5 and PM10 in the air. PM2.5 (and its larger counterpart, PM10) stands for particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, making it over 30 times smaller than that of a human hair, and as such presents grave health risks to those that respire such microscopic particles.
PM10 is also used as an overall figure in calculating air quality, but has far less prominence than PM2.5, and as such PM2.5 is used to greater measure to quantifying overall pollution levels, and will be used more for referencing Turkey’s pollution levels.
The main causes of air pollution in Turkey are: vehicular emissions and fumes, with a larger amount coming from older and outdated vehicles that run on diesel or leaded fuels, as well as heavy duty vehicles such as large trucks and buses, which can often contribute massively to vehicular pollution, even on a visual level, releasing large amounts of noxious black clouds in its wake.
Others are factory emissions, with a huge amount of coal fired power plants and factories pouring out their own pollutants, as well as gaseous or particulate matter byproducts of whatever is being produced at a particular factory (for example, any factory involved in the creation or recycling of plastic will inevitably release burnt plastic fumes, that come with a host of their own toxic chemicals and side effects).
Another source of pollution would be from home cooking and heating, often using materials that produce a lot of smoke and soot, such as wood, other dead organic matter or coal, often of the raw and unclean variety that creates even more pollution and haze.
So, to recap, the main causes of air pollution in Turkey are vehicle emissions, factories and power plants, construction sites or other similar areas (road repairs, demolition sites, mining etc.) as well as the burning of coal and other materials in homes for cooking and heating, most prominent in low-income areas around the capital city of Ankara.
Observing the data taken from all its different cities, there is a pattern in regards to when the air quality tends to decline and when it is at its best, although as with all countries there will be discrepancies in the readings due to factors such as geographical location, population density and meteorological conditions.
Looking at several sample cities, it appears to be unanimous in turkey that the middle months of the year are when Turkey’s air is at its cleanest, with the worst levels of air pollution coming in at the end of the year, and continuing on into the early months of the next year, before moving down again. Using two of Turkey’s more polluted cities, Lalapasa and Amasya, they followed this trend down to a fine detail.
Lalapasa had moderate ratings of pollution (12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³) through most of the year in 2019, with the elevated levels of pollution only coming in on January, February and March, and then in the latter part of the year in November and December. All of the aforementioned months fell into the unhealthy ratings bracket, demonstrating just how much of a contrast there was.
Amasya had a similar story to tell, with readings of 64.1 μg/m³ being taken in January, and 42.2 μg/m³ in February. In March the readings fell down to 31.6 μg/m³, back into the moderate pollution bracket, where they stayed until November. The difference in the months of September through to November were quite profound, with September coming in with a PM2.5 reading of 18.9 μg/m³. This then jumped up in October to 27.4 μg/m³, and then an alarming spike was seen in November with a reading of 80.7 μg/m³, followed by 74.1 μg/m³ in December.
Whilst there are a few exceptions to this rule, particularly in the cities with much cleaner qualities of air such as Samsun or Ordu, as previously mentioned, a majority of Turkish cities have their cleanest months in the mid region of the year, and their most polluted towards the end, with November and December being particularly prominent, mainly due to changes in temperature and thus larger amounts of materials being burnt to supply warmth to many homes.
With information available from the last few years, it appears that as a whole, turkey has made some marginal improvements in its level of pollution, and although they may be minor, any improvements made in pollution levels can be considered as good results.
Looking at some of its cities, some of them came in with better readings in 2019 than the year prior, with some also getting worse, showing once again the discrepancies between cities. The ones that showed improvement included cities such as Ankara, which came in with a reading of 19.6 μg/m³ in 2018 and then 18.4 μg/m³ in 2019, with this one being particularly prominent due to it being the capital city. Others were Istanbul with a reading of 21.7 μg/m³ in 2018 and 19.9 μg/m³ in 2019, as well as Corum and Bursa coming in with improved readings.
Several however came in with worse readings, with cities such as Amasya coming in at 34 μg/m³ in 2018 and then 35.9 μg/m³ in 2019, moving up a whole bracket from moderate ratings of pollution to unhealthy for sensitive groups, and more prominently the city of Giresun coming in at fairly low reading of 14 μg/m³ in 2018 and then spiking somewhat in 2019 to 21.9 μg/m³.
This shows that if Turkey as a whole is to improve its pollution levels, then the cities that are coming in with worse off readings should be made prime targets for initiatives focused on improving the quality of the air, which would in turn bring the whole countries readings to a cleaner level.
When examining the health issues related to breathing polluted air in any country, it is apparent that these health issues and illnesses can appear at any level of pollution that finds itself sitting outside the WHO’s target goal of 0 to 10 μg/m³ in terms of PM2.5 levels in the air. As such, with certain cities coming in with very high readings of pollution, the instances of these illnesses occurring would correlate directly with pollution levels and for how long they occur.
With months in Turkey across the various cities coming in with readings as high as 124.4 μg/m³, as seen in January in Lalapasa, the number of ailments as well as mortality rates would go up considerably. Some conditions that can occur would include ones such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a term that covers a host of respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia.
With exposure to fine particulate matters such as PM10, instances of irritation to the throat, nose, eyes and mouth may become apparent, as well as chest infections and the aggravation of preexisting conditions such as the previously mentioned asthma, or even triggering it off in individuals that never had it to begin with. When the particulate matter becomes even finer, as is the case with PM2.5, cases of cancer of the lungs, throat and stomach can all increase.
Due to its incredibly small size, these tiny particles can make their way deep into the tissues of the lungs where they can accumulate, causing a reduction in full lung function. From there they can enter into the blood stream via the alveoli, and once there cause all manner of problems to arise. These would include issues such as damage to the blood vessels, ischemic heart disease (whereby the heart fails to receive adequate supplies of oxygen thus causing damage to the tissue) as well as increased risk of cardiac arrest and strokes.
Pregnant women are particularly at risk, with overexposure causing events such as miscarriage to occur, or babies to be born prematurely or with a low birth weight, thus raising the infant mortality rate.
These are but a few of the afflictions that can occur from exposure to pollution, with damage to nearly every part of the body being possible, such as the kidneys, liver and reproductive systems. Preventative measures become increasingly important during bouts of pollution spikes, and as such staying up to date on pollution levels becomes something that should be attended to, with real time updates available on the air quality maps available on the IQAir website as well as the AirVisual app.
With all the previously mentioned offending sources of pollution in mind, chemical compounds and fine particulate matter that can find themselves in the atmosphere would include black carbon and volatile organic compounds such as benzene or formaldehyde.
Vehicles can give off large amounts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (S02), as well as the burning of wood or other organic material during the colder months releasing chemicals such as carbon monoxide (CO) and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.
Even innocuous sources of pollution such as construction sites are able to release contaminants such as finely ground silica dust (a known carcinogen) as well as microplastics and metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, all of which have not only dire consequences on human health, but can have knock on effects on the environment, climate, ecosystems as well as water supplies and plant life.