Ruhat Yıldırak, a denim sandblasting worker who had been treated for silicosis for two years, has lost his life.
He is the 39th denim sandblaster to have died of the disease, and the fourth in the last four months. His cousin İdil Oral also suffers from the illness and his life is also endangered.
Yıldırak died at the Research Hospital in Erzurum, eastern Turkey, on Saturday, 28 February. He started working at a young age in workshops in Istanbul.
Workers did not know about dangers
In an interview with Sabah newspaper in 2008, he said:
“I worked for a denim sand blasting workshop in Istanbul for four years, without social security and under awful conditions. We did not even know about such an illness. When a friend from my village, Erhan, died, we found out about it. Then we stopped working there.”
“I left work and started my military service. I was on duty in Edirne, and during the last two weeks of military service I developed breathing difficulties and pains in my chest. First I did not take it seriously. After finishing my military service in 2005, I went back to my village. When my symptoms got worse, I went to Diyarbakır’s Dicle University Hospital. They told me there was no cure.”
A whole village affected
Yıldırak is from a village in the eastern province of Bingöl. The village of Taşlılar has 287 households and a population of 600. More than half the village suffers from silicosis, sometimes more than one patient in one household. Five workers from the village have already lost their lives.
84 people in the village have been treated for silicosis, and three young men have lost their lives in the last year.
Silicosis is normally an occupational disease associated with people working with stone, such as miners, quarry workers, stone blasters, etc. Silica dust enters the lungs and causes respiratory problems by inflaming and scarring the lungs. Silicosis is irreversible, and particularly the acute form leads to death.
The fashion in denim that is faded and made to look old is achieved by blasting the material with sand from air compressors. Workers using the equipment are then exposed to silica dust.
The Committee for Solidarity with Denim Sandblasters (KTİD) has said that there are around 4,000 denim workers with the disease and that the connection between the occupation and the disease has been known since 2004.
Concert for solidarity
On 11 March, the committee has organised a concert in support of the workers in Istanbul. Famous singers, actors and dancers will take the stage on that night:
Arif Sağ, Şebnem Sönmez, Cahit Berkay, Yasemin Göksu, Mor ve Ötesi, Kardeş Türküler, Anadolu Ateşi, Zeynep Tanbay, İclal Aydın and actors from the "Elveda Rumeli" series. (BW/AG)
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