Statement as to the Accusations of Bülent Şık

Yazar / Referans: 
Tansu Pişkin, Bianet

"Environmental pollution caused by toxic and carcinogenic chemicals poses a serious risk to health of human and natural life, particularly children, and the related public institutions are obliged to take precautions and security measures to eliminate this risk."

We are publishing the full English translation of the statement as to the accusations presented by bianet columnist, Food Engineer Asst. Prof. Bülent Şık to the court in the lawsuit filed against him for sharing the results of a project conducted by the Ministry of Health with the public.


When regarded from the perspective of public health, environment is everything that surrounds our body. Environment is composed of the soil that we step on, the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, the water that we drink and everything that touches our skin, which isolates us from the outside world and has a major role in forming our sense of self.

Air pollution is just as serious a health hazard as smoking. The food that we eat is also affected by environmental pollution. It is inevitable that foodstuffs grown in a polluted environment contain hazardous chemicals in themselves. The pollution of water bodies with chemical substances should also be added to this picture.

There are strong links between various diseases and the environment where we live.

Except for the habit of smoking, a vast number of illnesses affecting humans, especially cancer, are related to the environment where we live, rather than our personal preferences and habits.

However, the health problems confronting people are not solely related to cancer. A great number of toxic chemicals cause various health problems in humans, particularly infertility, reproductive health disorders, disruptions in hormonal and neural systems, obesity, respiratory tract diseases and dysfunctions in vital organs such as liver and kidneys.

The most critical point here is the age.

The younger the person is, the higher the risk of a health hazard gets.

Through which channels toxic substances enter the body and how much toxic substance the body is exposed to are important. Generally, the higher the exposure dosage is, the higher the detrimental effect gets. However, it is not a rule which is valid in all cases.  For instance, toxic chemicals that impair the functioning of endocrine system and affect the development of neural system negatively are an exception in that regard. These chemicals can also show negative effects in very low doses. In addition, considering that cellular proliferation is very active in the growth and development stages of children and their body weight is lower than that of adults, these factors make children more vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Therefore, toxic chemicals cause the biggest harm to babies and children.

Within this context, I would like to reiterate a point that I also mentioned in previous hearings: In the research conducted by the Ministry of Health, a great number of toxic chemical substances that have an impairing effect on endocrine and neural systems were studied and, therefore, the results of the research directly concern children's health.

International academic publications or statements of specialist organizations in their field such as National Cancer Institute (NCI) indicate that there is a worldwide increase in incidences of childhood cancers. Living in an environment polluted with chemical substances is cited as one of the most important causes of the increase in childhood cancers.

It is indicated that while only 7 percent of all human cancers are hereditary, the remaining 93 percent is caused by the interaction of environmental factors with genes. Thus, cancer is a disease that is very closely related with living in an environment polluted with toxic chemicals.

While the total amount of toxic chemicals produced across the world was 1 million tonnes in 1930, this figure has now increased to 500 million tonnes. However, what is worse, only seven out of every one hundred toxic chemicals involved in daily life were tested for safety. 93 percent of toxic chemicals were put into use without acquiring any knowledge about what kind of problems they cause in humans and natural life. We do not directly contact a vast majority of these chemicals; otherwise, life would be impossible.

These chemicals contained in various objects and tools pollute the nature with the waste produced during their manufacturing processes and with the hazardous chemicals produced after they turn into waste by wearing out or going out of order etc. over time. Despite these objectionable points, the use of toxic chemicals is increasing year by year. Countries, national and international institutions shut their eyes to this great irresponsibility.

In Turkey, it is impossible to receive a clear answer to the questions regarding the use of toxic chemicals and the amount of toxic waste across the country. The leading institutions to answer these questions are Ministries of Health, Environment, Industry and Technology, Trade, Tourism and Agriculture. Unfortunately, there is an ambiguity about not only the produced toxic waste, but also the imported hazardous or toxic waste. We cannot cite a clear figure. But, we can say the following quite clearly: Various toxic chemicals that we release to nature in solid, liquid or gas forms will pollute the soil, bodies of water and air.

The people who have to live in these polluted areas will have a higher risk of developing various diseases, especially cancer. When compared with adults, children are ten times more likely to develop these diseases.The chemical pollution which is created cannot be considered a natural phenomenon. The perpetrators who cause the pollution are obvious. The companies that think nothing of human and environmental health and the public institutions that do not fulfill their duties are the perpetrators of this pollution and health hazards suffered by humans. However, it is impossible to receive any information from public institutions about these issues.

I am of the opinion that the silence of public institutions is not coincidental and that we live in a period when public institutions do not feel responsible to the public. I want to give an example to express myself more clearly: Only in 2018, we might have imported at least 250 thousand tonnes of plastic waste into our country. The actual figures might be even higher than that. Why? Why do we import hundreds of thousands of plastic waste despite so many harms?

There are serious problems about putting plastic waste into recycling; the rate of plastic waste that can be put into recycling process across the world is around 9 percent. Then, what do we do with this waste containing carcinogens? Where do we store it? Who are these importing companies? Will not this waste cause environmental pollution in the areas where it is stored and in the facilities where it is treated? What precautions have been taken to prevent such pollution? We, as citizens, do not know almost anything about these issues.

However, it needs to be known that together with plastic waste that contains various toxic chemicals in their composition, cancer is also imported into our country.

But, do the citizens of our country know these problems? Do the media and academic institutions of our country fulfill their duties of informing and warning the public about these problems? No. The answer of this question is a clear no. Therefore, regarding citizens' access to information as a right is of critical importance. It is also a necessity to guarantee the use of this right. Everyone has the right to know what kind of a life they live in.

As I have just tried to explain with plastic waste example, environmental pollution is not a natural process. It should not be regarded as an activity of getting polluted, but an activity of polluting. And the research of Ministry of Health is one of the most comprehensive studies that would inform us citizens about who undertake these activities of polluting and how they do it. But, perhaps for that very reason, it stays silent. Unfortunately, this silence leads to the waste of times very critical for water crisis, which will gradually intensify and will be impossible to resolve in the near future.

I indicated it in previous hearings that the research results point at a widespread chemical polluting in water bodies. The issue of water is one of the most important and most vital issues of our country. The chemical pollution caused in water bodies in Ergene basin, in Kocaeli and in various regions of our country with high levels of environmental pollution is a problem that needs to be taken very seriously.

The per capita amount of available water in Turkey will decrease by half in upcoming decades due to climate crisis. While considering this decrease, one also has to consider the water bodies that have become unusable or undrinkable due to chemical pollution and will become more unusable and more undrinkable, given the way things stand.

A body of water can become undrinkable due to chemical pollution. It might be a huge water mass, but it just stands there because it is polluted, it cannot be used by anyone. Though these problems are well known, there is not a single laboratory across the country that can analyze the chemical substances with the potential of polluting water bodies. No long-term, periodical and comprehensive control and monitoring activities are undertaken.

In the face of major problems about water bodies, responsible public institutions such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Tourism etc. do not have a serious, solution-oriented action plan, which is a great weakness.

Lastly, I will talk about another very important issue.

Environmental pollution needs to be approached from another perspective.

Toxic chemicals do not only cause detrimental problems in humans, but in species in natural life such as birds, flying insects, fishes and arthropods as well. The decrease in the number of species in nature caused by chemical pollution will lead to a very serious catastrophe in the next decades. The term of "mass extinction" is used in the academic literature to explain the gravity of the catastrophe. In fact, the loss of natural life means that humans will also lose their ground of existence; what will go extinct is the human. I wanted that we did not miss this point.

It is only through public approaches that we can reach solutions that will look after the welfare of general public.

Living in an environment polluted with chemical substances is a problem that we cannot overcome by changing our personal preferences and habits. Therefore, preventing the destruction of natural environment is a key strategy that will play a positive role in struggle against cancer. Seen in this context, just as public institutions' actions to prevent environmental pollution are a necessity, citizens' support for struggles against environmental pollution and their participation in demonstrations are also a necessity.

It is an ordinary civil right. A scientist cannot and should not keep away from struggles waged about this issue. On the contrary, scientists should regard it as a fundamental responsibility to carry their knowledge and results of the studies they conducted to the public sphere, to spark public debates, to fuel the public debates taking place about the issue and to be inside these debates, rather than standing on their edge. Institutions might stay silent in the face of social problems, but a scientist should not stay silent.

The information contained in Ministry's research does not only detect problems. It also tells us how we can resolve the common problem of chemical pollution. It also says which chemical substance is high in concentration in which residential area, what causes this pollution and what public measures need to be taken to find a solution. It has been four years since the field works conducted by the Ministry of Health came to an end and one and a half years since I announced the partial results of the research to the public on daily Cumhuriyet.

Within this whole time, some political party representatives, Medical Association, various occupational organizations affiliated with the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), trade unions, human rights organizations, several non-governmental organizations operating in the fields of health, environment, food and ecology have requested that the ministry announce the research results and inform the public about what measures have been taken to resolve the problems detected by the research.

The same requests were also raised at your court by lawyers who attended the hearings, some of them in representation of bar associations. It is hard to understand how the Ministry, which is a public institution, can stay silent in the face of a request raised by such a wide segment of the public. As the Ministry of Health stays silent, it aggravates the crime it has commited. Environmental pollution caused by toxic and carcinogenic chemicals poses a serious risk to the health of human and natural life, particularly children, and the related public institutions are obliged to take the necessary precautions and security measures to eliminate this risk.

(I do not know whether the penal code has such a crime definition, but) The failure to fulfill this obligation should be regarded as committing the crime of openly and knowingly putting people into jeopardy. I did not commit this crime; therefore, I request my acquittal. (BŞ/TP/SD)

* Illustration: Nazım Dikbaş