Turkish miners say they were given nonfunctional gas masks

The gas masks given to workers in a coal mine in Soma, a district of western Manisa province, where a tragic explosion and blaze killed 301 people last week, were produced in 1993, and their filters had expired years before the disastrous accident, according to miners. 

The reasons behind the country’s worst mining disaster are still not clear, but all 301 miners apparently lost their lives due to carbon monoxide poisoning. It was probably not possible to determine any rise in the level of carbon monoxide in the mine, if, as maintained by mine workers, the carbon monoxide sensors were not operating.  

In earlier statements, the managers of the Soma mine said they had given workers gas masks that could provide the workers with oxygen for 45 minutes. However, this is not true, according to miners who were saved from last week’s disaster.  

The gas masks handed out to miners in Soma were produced in China in 1993, and their filters expired several years ago, according to the rescued miners. While modern gas masks have the capacity to provide oxygen for up to two hours, these masks were too old to function.

Barış Kılıç, a miner who was saved from the accident, spoke to reporters on Wednesday, showing them a gas mask given to miners by Soma Kömür İşletmeleri A.Ş. (Soma Mining Company), which operates the mine. “I have worked for this mine for nine years. All workers were given these masks. We did not know how to operate them when they first gave us the gas masks,” Kılıç said, adding that miners were given a lecture on how to operate the gas masks later. 

“The gas masks date back to 1993. There is Chinese writing and numbers on the gas masks. We do not know what it means. Most of the masks are moldy. It is very hard to use the masks,” the miner said. 

Kılıç also said he was fined TL 300 in 2007 because he opened the gas mask by mistake. “When the mask was opened, they [the mine managers] wanted me to return the mask to the mine’s depot. But I had already paid for it, so I refused to return the mask and took it to my house,” he noted. 

The basic gas masks have a clip that is placed on the nose. This prevents the user from inhaling carbon monoxide. A simple device is then placed in the mouth to help the user inhale oxygen through a carbon monoxide filter.

According to Kılıç, such primitive gas masks are used in many coal mines, not only the one in Soma. 

Media reports allege that these masks cost only $30, or as low as $17 in bulk. Modern gas masks, on the other hand, cost around $350. 

An official from a company that sells gas masks told the Radikal daily on Thursday that modern gas masks, which are mostly produced in European countries, cost between TL 700 and TL 900. These masks, according to the official, who asked to remain anonymous, are able to provide the user with oxygen for up to 75 minutes. When asked about the masks used in the Soma coal mine, the official said those masks would not function because they are too old and simple. They might have provided oxygen for a maximum of five minutes, he noted.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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