Scientific Investigations in Turkey
There's good news and bad news about Turkey's sewage.
The good news — they led the world in an aspect of
SARS-CoV-2 public health work.
While several countries had discovered the coronavirus in the inputs
to sewage plants, Turkey was the first to investigate and find SARS-CoV-2
genetic material in the resulting sludge, an end product
possibly destined for spreading on agricultural land.
As for the bad news — in 2020 the Sea of Marmara
became covered with a mucus-like film.
It's the result of pollution, including outflow of undertreated sewage,
coupled with global warming.
Below is a view across the Bosphorus, from a rooftop in the Sultanahmet
district of İstanbul on the European side, to the Asian shore.
The Bosphorus flows down from the left in this view,
the Sea of Marmara opens off to the right.
View across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia,
from a rooftop in the Sultanahmet district in İstanbul.
It's much as I've seen during
several visits to Turkey.
Many very smart people, with a somewhat dysfunctional government
and over-loaded infrastructure.
Let's look at the good part first, the scientific leadership.
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 a world-wide
pandemic on 11 March 2020.
Scientists in several countries quickly began monitoring
wastewater treatment plant influx, detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus
or fragments of its RNA in treatment plant inputs in the
and in plumbing systems in multistory apartment buildings in
SARS-CoV-2 Detection in İstanbul Wastewater Treatment Plant Sludges
Turkish scientists at multiple universities and government ministries
were then the first in the world to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in
the sludge, the end product of treatment plants.
Nationwide SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance Study for Sewage and Sludges
of Wastewater Treatment Plants in Turkey
On 7 May 2020, not quite two full months after the pandemic declaration,
these Turkish scientists had reported SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection at
the outputs of seven major municipal wastewater treatment plants
is focused on the İstanbul region, the
spans the large country of Turkey, from the Aegean in the west to
the Caucasus and Iran in the east; and from the Black Sea in the north
to the Mediterranean in the south,
Kara Deniz to Ak Deniz or Black Sea to White Sea.
It was only after the Turks that the
and later, others, detected SARS-CoV-2 in sludge.
İstanbul is an enormous city,
with 15.5 million inhabitants forming a very high population density.
To its north, the Black Sea is fed by several major rivers
including the Danube, Don, and Dneipr.
It drains through the Bosphorus, a narrow river-like channel
flowing to the south between the European and Asian sides of İstanbul,
emptying into the Sea of Marmara.
That in turn drains on south through the Dardanelles strait into the Aegean Sea.
The Golden Horn is a side channel off the Bosphorus into
the European side of İstanbul.
It divides the old imperial Ottoman district of Sultanahmet, the Grand Bazaar,
and other older quarters to the southwest,
from the more recently prosperous areas to the northwest, the haunts of
Agatha Christie and her fictional detective Hercule Poirot.
View across the Golden Horn in İstanbul,
looking south toward the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar.
New York City
The recent studies will help guide the handling of sludge during the
dewatering, stabilizing, and disposal processes.
It will be especially valuable in situations where treated sludge
is normally used as soil conditioners and fertilizers in agriculture.
See my visits to the
New York City wastewater treatment plants
for more details on the various stages of treatment.
Remember that a virus isn't really alive.
It's a package of genetic material in a lipid shell,
RNA within a fatty bubble.
You can't kill what isn't really alive.
The goal is to destroy or at least damage the virus particle.
Detergent breaks down and lifts away fat, so soap can destroy a virus.
Wastewater treatment produces two different types of sludge.
First, primary sludge formed when gravity
settles material out of wastewater in the primary settling tanks.
It's mostly organic material that settles out,
while little decomposition occurs.
The wastewater then flows on to biological treatment with
anaerobic, anoxic, and oxic zones.
Those are followed by a final gravity clarification or settling stage.
The waste activated sludge formed during the biological
treatment and then settled out is the excess component of the biomass,
the result of bacteria growing from feeding on the waste.
Digester "eggs" at the Newtown Creek plant in New York City.
Sludge is heated in an oxygen-free environment inside these,
and anaerobic microorganisms break down organic material
in one of the last stages of sludge treatment.
Turkey was then hit by a different health problem in the late spring of 2021.
Marine mucilage is a thick jelly-like layer of slime.
It develops on the surface of water because of compounds released by
an excessive proliferation of phytoplankton or algae.
It is visible on top of the water as a slimy grey sheet.
It lined the shores of the Sea of Marmara, and underwater video showed
that it was covering and suffocating coral.
The so-called "Sea Snot"
was first documented along the Turkish coastline in 2007.
View across the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe,
from near the Haydarpaşa train station to the
Sultanahmet district on the European side.
This is from 2004, in happier, cleaner, pre-mucilage times.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed with the scientists,
an unusual move for an authoritarian,
saying that the sea snot was caused by untreated waste being dumped
into the Sea of Marmara along with increased temperature caused by
The nutrient overload and higher temperatures speed up the growth of algae.
They block out the sunlight and cause oxygen depletion for
fish and other marine life.
The water pollution and warming temperatures have grown progressively worse
over the past 40 years.
By 2021 wastewater monitoring work was well underway and getting
organized on a global scale.
COVID-19 Wastewater-Based Epidemiology
See especially their
and their interactive