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Beirut residents at risk as city plans waste incinerators

Jan 11

Leading environmental experts have warned against the establishment of waste incinerators in Beirut, amid the lack of governmental supervision to monitor and curb air pollution as well as toxic emissions in the highly dense urban area.

With the latest form of waste incinerators being touted by Beirut's municipal council under the guise of thermal disintegration, Associate Professor at the College of Chemical Engineering at the American University of Beirut, Dr. Joseph Zeaiter, and Environmental Engineer Ziad Abi Chaker, rang alarm bells over this reported proposal.

Numerous factors come into play as to why Lebanon doesn’t meet the requisite conditions for the adoption of incinerators – inspired by the example of developed countries – from the composition of the country’s waste to its independent environmental authority, or lack thereof.

“These procedures adopted in European nations will not bode well in Lebanon, as the nature of our waste and its composition are distinctly different”, Zeaiter told Annahar.

According to Zeaiter, 52 percent of Lebanon’s waste is organic and therefore not suitable for incineration, while “the rest of the plastic, paper, and cardboard found in our waste should be recycled.”

The lack of government oversight or independent environmental agencies represent another hindering roadblock toward the proper implementation of such a wide-scale project, said Zeaiter. “Lebanon is missing a proper environmental law and effective authority to meticulously monitor these incinerators,' Zeaiter explained.

“The Ministry of Health is simply inactive in this regard”, he added.

These sentiments were also echoed in a report put together by a collective of experts and specialists in the fields of environmental science, health and economics, as well as different activists and civil societies.

The report, issued on November 7, 2017, warned against the impeding dangers if incinerators are in fact implemented, calling on Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani to “wholly reject this proposal and spare the residents of Beirut and its suburbs of an inevitable health hazard.”

Beirut has witnessed an alarming rise in air pollution, with toxic inhalable aerosols filling its atmosphere and contributing to a hike in diseases and medical conditions, the highest in the Middle East at the moment according to the report.

The report, using highly charged rhetoric, vows to hold accountable those who “violate any law pertaining to the protection of air, water and soil from pollution.”

According to the report, toxic fumes emanating from the proposed incinerators within the Beirut area would negatively impact over 500,000 citizens, the equivalent of almost half the city's residents.

Solid waste needs to be controlled and sorted at well-operated waste sorting facilities, Abi Chaker noted, arguing that western nations only use incineration in parallel to advanced screening programs.

“Countries like Germany and Denmark resort to incineration processes to deal with non-recyclable waste”, Abi Chaker told Annahar.

Further derailing these plans and underscoring how incineration is not a viable case for Lebanon is the extremely high cost of enacting such facilities, with estimates mounting to around half a million dollars to establish the facilities in addition to another $100 million in management and operation expenses, Zeaiter said.

The tender specifications for the 'thermal disintegration' project, which were approved by the Cabinet in November 2017, is being challenged by a group of environmentalists and activists before the Shoura Council. The opponents of the project claim the proposal is riddled with flaws and in violation of numerous Lebanese environmental laws and international agreements.