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Gov’t ignored disaster warnings for gold mine landslide site

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Following a recent landslide at the Çöpler gold mine in the eastern Turkish province of Erzincan, reports have emerged that government and company officials ignored several warnings of a potential disaster, leading to a tragic event in which nine workers were trapped under toxic debris.

The landslide, which occurred on February 13, released about 10 million cubic meters of soil contaminated with cyanide and sulfuric acid that tumbled from the 200-meter-high slope of the heap leach pad.

The search activities for the trapped miners have been suspended since Monday due to the risk of a second landslide in the area.

This disaster has shone a spotlight on the oversight and management of mining activities in the region and highlighted a series of ignored warnings and regulatory oversights.

According to Turkish media reports citing official documents, Anagold, the company operating the mine, was given the green light by the Ministry of Environment on August 16, 2023, despite explicit warnings from the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) provincial directorate in Erzincan about the risk of landslides.

According to details emerging in Turkish media reports, an international auditing firm recommended the purchase of additional radar and robotic stations to monitor the stability of the mine. However, these recommendations were not followed in time, and the mine’s radar system was unable to detect the landslide when it occurred.

Recent statements by current and former government officials prompted criticism of the handling of the disaster’s aftermath.

Mehmet Özhaseki, the environment minister, has been criticized for his comments that he did not know that the mine was located on an active fault line, a fact that has been well documented and highlighted by geological experts.

A team from Karadeniz Technical University, led by Professor Hakan Ersoy, conducted an analysis on site and found that the height of the heap leach pad was 257 meters, well above the controllable level and well above the global standard of 150 meters. This finding indicates a critical failure in the management of waste at the mine that directly contributed to the landslide.

The İstanbul Bar Association has filed criminal charges of abuse of public duty, involuntary manslaughter and environmental crimes against various individuals, including Anagold Madencilik officials, former environment minister Murat Kurum and experts involved in the approval of the environmental impact assessment for the mine.

The mine had previously been declared safe from landslides in environmental impact assessments conducted during Kurum’s tenure as minister of environment, urbanization and climate change. Kurum is currently the mayoral candidate for İstanbul from the ruling AKP and has been criticized for his share of responsibility in the high death toll of major earthquakes that struck southern Turkey in 2023 and killed more than 53,000 people.

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