Environmental Health Profs Talk Turkey

May 2, 2003

Heather Heilman

There are at least 10 billion barrels of oil under the Caspian Sea region, and maybe hundreds of times more. But exports from the area are limited, and a look at the map will show you why. Russia's to the north, Iran's to the south, and mountains separate the area from the Mediterranean Sea. A consortium of oil companies and the governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey plan to build an oil pipeline from the Azeri fields by the Caspian Sea to the Turkish city of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean, a distance of 1,700 miles.

The Baku-T'bilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will transport a million barrels of oil daily along a route that bypasses Iran, Iraq and Turkey. And members of Tulane's Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety are playing a role in making sure the project proceeds safely. A team led by Assaf Abdelghani, chair of environmental health, spent early March in Ankara, Turkey, conducting a health and safety training program for pipeline workers.

The team included Faye Grimsley, assistant professor of environmental health, and Kim Chapital, Bruce McClue and Louis Mayer of the office of environmental health and safety. Team members were understandably a bit nervous about traveling to a country that shares a border with Iraq during the buildup to war. Grimsley, new to the Tulane faculty after a career as an industrial hygienist, said her mother advised her to quit her job when she was told about the trip. The Turkish people are overwhelmingly against the war.

"When we were there, thousands of people were in the streets of Ankara protesting against the war," Abdelghani said. But no hostility was expressed toward visiting Americans. "They understand the difference between the people and the government," he said.

The trip went smoothly and the training program was a success. The team trained about 400 people, including managers, health staff and those who will in turn train the 68,000 workers who will build the pipeline. Some of those were additionally trained as inspectors to visit work sites and make sure that good practices are being upheld everything from preventing and controlling disease in the work camps to avoiding accidents on the job.

The goal is to make the project safer for the workers and to minimize its environmental impact. The program was conducted in English and directed toward the foreign workers who will be employed on the pipeline. But the Tulane team also provided training materials for a similar program that will be conducted in Turkish.

"We prepared all the slides and all the lectures," Abdelghani said. "We also developed a pocket manual that covers all the things they might encounter in the field."

The training was offered in partnership with Hacettepe University in Ankara, the result of a relationship between the two schools established by Tulane ophthalmology professor Zeynel Karcioglu, who is from Turkey. Although the group worked hard, teaching all day for 11 days in a row, they also were treated to hospitality that bordered on the lavish, courtesy of the host university. Despite their initial jitters, the trip was a positive experience for his team, according to Abdelghani.

"It benefited them to have this experience overseas, and it will benefit Tulane to have them bring that experience back," he said.

Heather Heilman can be reached at

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