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We only have Tier 1 and Tier 2 generators in Lebanon that are providing electricity to supplement the market. These are causing severe air pollution and particulate pollution that cause so many different health problems ranging from asthma to cancer to  various respiratory problems. We urgently need to solve the electricity problem in Lebanon.

Information on pollution of Tier 1 and Tier 2 Generators:

Where the USA is now:

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Lebanon ranks in the top 20 most polluted countries:

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Modeling air pollution in Lebanon:
evaluation at a suburban site in Beirut
A. Waked1,2, C. Seigneur1
, F. Couvidat1
, Y. Kim1
, K. Sartelet1
, C. Afif2
A. Borbon3
, P. Formenti3
, and S. Sauvage4
1CEREA, Joint Laboratory Ecole des Ponts ParisTech/EDF R&D, Universit ´ e Paris-Est, ´
Champs-sur-Marne, France
2Centre d’Analyses et de Recherche, Faculty of Sciences, Universite Saint-Joseph, Beirut, ´
LISA, UMR CNRS 7583, Universite Paris-Est Cr ´ eteil and Universit ´ e Paris Diderot, Institut ´
Pierre-Simon Laplace, Creteil, France ´
4Ecole des Mines de Douai, Departement Chimie Environnement, 59508 Douai, France ´
Received: 21 August 2012 – Accepted: 5 November 2012 – Published: 16 November 2012
Correspondence to: A. Waked (,
Published by Copernicus Publications on behalf of the European Geosciences Union.

A good study on air pollution in Lebanon.

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Lebanon is suffering from a serious crisis of E. Coli and listeria contamination thanks to unhygienic conditions and polluted waterways.

Following the national uproar in Lebanon when large amounts of rotten meat and dairy were found at some of Beirut’s top restaurants and supermarkets, researchers at the American University of Beirut (AUB) carried out a study on levels of bacterial contamination in Lebanon’s meat and dairy products. The lead researcher and environmentalist Rabih Kamleh explains how the findings reveal worrying levels of harmful pathogenic microorganisms such as Salmonella , Listeria and Escherichia Coli in Lebanese food. As far as dangers go, cheese “smells” the worst. 

In fact, the study indicates bacterial levels that are much higher than accepted standards set by the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom. For example, 66 percent of cheese samples in the study contained E. Coli and 26.6% of the cheese samples contained Listeria.

The second worrying discovery is that these pathogens are building resistance to the most frequently prescribed antibiotics .

AUB microbiologist Steve Harakeh published a study showing that 100% of fast food meat samples in Lebanon had bacteria resistant to the common antibiotics oxacilllin and clindamycin, and 42% were resistant to trimethroprim-sulfamethoxazole.

Another study (links to PDF) evaluated the presence of Yersinia enterocolitica in three dairy based foods which include Kishk, Shankleesh and Baladi cheese and tested their susceptibilities to commonly used antimicrobial agents such as chloramphenicol, trimethoprim/ sulfamethoxazole, gentamicin, ciprofloxacin , nalidixic acid, kanamycin and streptomycin.

The data showed surprising levels of resistance of Y. entercolitica – the antimicrobial resistance levels exceeded by far all the levels reported elsewhere.

One of the main reasons for this is unhygienic processing and storing practices with insufficient regulation . But Lebanon’s food supply is also highly contaminated due to heavy chemical and biological pollution in its water systems.

For example the Litani River, Lebanon’s longest river which is used to irrigate the Bekaa valley, is heavily polluted with sewage, household, medical, agricultural and industrial waste.

The smell and pollution have gotten so bad that many are being forced to pack up and leave. Riad Qaraawi, professor of microbiology in the faculty of medicine at the Lebanese University in the Bekaa, reports high levels of chemical and bacterial contamination in the river that spread to agricultural products.

His research also shows an increase in typhoid, hepatitis and nitrates in the bodies of those who live near the waterway. And these areas also have high cancer rates because of the carcinogen mercury which is building up at the bottom of the river and spreading to groundwater reserves.

Although several donor countries have been contributing part of the funds to construct water refineries and sewage treatment plants, several plants have not been completed.

The $150 million plan to build sewage and water refinement plans – which included the Environment Ministry, international organizations and the CDR – is 70 percent complete, but the project has not been concluded because the government has not yet contributed the share it pledged.

The result is a considerable number of half completed water treatment systems in Lebanon which disguise the fact that, in fact, several liters of untreated waste are being dumped directly into rivers andseas. Shockingly there is no law obliging companies to build their own plants to treat waste.

Water is at the base of any type of consumption or production process, especially for food supplies. If this source is highly contaminated Lebanon risks a severe public health hazard, as the food supply now becomes a potential vehicle for the transmission of many resistant bacterial pathogens .

Image of contaminated food from Shutterstock

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February 18, 2012 01:31 AM

The Daily Star
The waterway of Nahr Beirut turned red after a sewage pipe expelled an unidentifiable stream of effluvium into it, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
The waterway of Nahr Beirut turned red after a sewage pipe expelled an unidentifiable stream of effluvium into it, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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Pollution in Lebanon is rife and obvious, from its sea to it rivers and quarries, and this despite the dozens of organizations, NGOs, and committees in the country that purport to protect the environment for current and future generations of Lebanese.

Over the years these entities have failed to make any significant impact on the wellbeing of the environment. They remain silent until a catastrophe strikes, and then the country is suddenly inundated with statements, condemnations, vows and plans, but nothing on the ground.

The contamination this week that turned Beirut’s river red is just the latest example. Already, the Litani River in the south is contaminated to such a degree that the vegetables that grow around it are liable to cause all kinds of diseases because of the chemicals deposited in the river by farmers, olive tree mills and factories.

The Bekaa’s Qaraoun Lake is another disaster, with animal carcasses mysteriously appearing in its environs.

Meanwhile, the unregulated quarries across Lebanon eat into the country’s natural resources.

In the poorer areas, where the state is absent, ancient trees are chopped down in order to sustain people.

These issues flare up in the public conscience at certain times, only to die down again. A big noise is made, probes are promised but no action is ever taken.

In the 1960s, 33 percent of the country was green. That figure is now less than 12 percent. If these levels of environmental destruction continue, before long the country will be turned to desert.

Yet the Environment Ministry is treated as a luxury, with a budget barely enough to sustain the wages of the few who work there, and some insignificant expenses.

The ministry’s ability to protect the environment, to educate people and to crack down on those who do not abide by its laws, is therefore minimal.

Every minister who tries – and some have put sincere effort into their work – has found that this environmental destruction is protected by parties and politicians.

Therefore any effort to curb environmental violations is met with opposition from whichever politician or party holds a vested interest.

Statements, investigations and promises to prosecute are merely an exercise in semantics. The Lebanese have learned that measures are cosmetic, having never seen the conclusion of an investigation, nor the conviction, let alone the public naming of a perpetrator.

This country needs a state of environmental emergency, with tough laws so the ministry is treated as one of its vital institutions, with the clout to put an end to the violations of nature and rehabilitate its green spaces.

Otherwise our children will wake up immersed in disease, surrounded by deserts, polluted waters and poisoned food.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 18, 2012, on page 7.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

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Prepared by Najib Haddad

Pollution is caused by the need to dispose of waste, which may be defined as any gaseous, solid, or liquid material that is discarded because it has no further apparent use for the owner, industrial processor or manufacturer (34, 35). If not properly managed, its impact on the environment is seen as a change in the composition of air, water and soil in ways that are to some extent harmful to living things, irreversible, and that have already in places reached disastrous proportions.

Despite the fact that current population estimates vary widely from one source to another, ranging from 2.7 million, to nearly 4 million, there is a strong case for believing that the total current population in Lebanon lies between 3.5 and 4.0 million, including non-Lebanese (36), and they are unevenly distributed. Lebanon is a small country, and yet has a high population density of 365 persons/Km, and showing sharp regional variations reaching 1,600 persons/Km in the coastal areas, which contain 60% of the total population (4). These high coastal counts resulted from the combined effects of socioeconomic change and forced internal migration which originated from the urban areas of Mount-Lebanon (62%) and South-Lebanon (24%), and destined the peri-urban centers of Mount-Lebanon and the Greater Beirut Area (GBA) (27). Most of these lived in accommodations not originally designed for dwelling units, such as factories and offices. So, the population growth outstripped the provision of environmental services, from solid waste management to other element of urban life, and led to increase in the sources and types of pollutants that affected drastically the environment of the country and even surrounding countries. The impact focused on the air, water and even soil quality and caused the pollutants to enter the local ecological food chain of the inhabitants, and thus returning to humans in various harmful forms.

The major impact resulting from this over population is the wastewater management and its effect on the supply of water. The war caused severe damage to sewerage systems in the country. Large portions of the networks were badly damaged and there is widespread clogging or silting. Many of the sewerage systems are undersized in relation to the population that they now serve, representing 50%, following population growth and demographic shift.

The coastal zone is severely stressed as a result of the city, and tourist resort sewerage systems which, have either short outlets (Beirut, and southern suburbs), or are undersized (Ghadir, North Metn), or are old (Tripoli, Akkar), and empty their contents in rivers and the sea. Individual systems serve inland communities which discharge raw sewage into local streams. This chaotic sewage disposal is polluting, and contaminating the rivers (39) and the adjacent coastal area (22), especially around the ports, stressing strongly the marine life (23). In addition, at sea ports the discharge and disposal of ballast waters, the effect of dredging, and petroleum pollution from accidental spills from tankers, increase the pollutants and their concentration.

Water quality showed that Nahr Antelias, Nahr el Kalb, Nahbel Laban are believed to have high bacterial concentrations along its course, and source. The Naba’El Assal, a major domestic water source for Kesrouan, is known to be polluted by wastewater infiltration from uphill communities. The Bay of Jounieh and the Kesrouan coastal areas are considered unacceptable bathing waters because the bacterial content exceeds the WHO limit of 100 fecal coli/100ml (30).

In Tripoli and Akkar, the systems are old, and terminate with relatively short outfalls resulting in the diversion of part of the sewage to the open storm water channels from which it is used for irrigation, and contaminate the Akkar soil with Nitrate, which find its way to ground water (5). Six of the seven communities in the caza of Bcharre provided with sewer networks discharge their sewage into Kadisha/Abu Ali River whose waters are tapped by lower altitude communities. Part of the sewer networks serving the Koura and Zgharta communities are made of open channels. These channels often flood their contents contaminating the surrounding areas and exposing the inhabitants to potential risk of acquiring endemic diseases.

In 1993 the MoE collected data on bacterial contamination at 38 sites along the coast of North Lebanon from river outlets. The bacterial count ranged from 35 at Ras el Saker to1100 in Jbail and Al Buhsas, to 11,000 at the Ramlet EL Baydah (19).

The sewer system in Jezzine terminates at a water outfall on the Aariye River, which provides water used for irrigation. Individual cesspools and percolation pits in the area contribute to pollution of local springs that are used for domestic supply. In Saida, discharge sewage along the shoreline at more than 15 locations, stressing and contaminating the healthy marine life. Sour, is served by a separate sewer system that was constructed about 30 years ago leading to a single discharge output. The system is reported to be undersized, and lift station is not in operation at present, leading to frequent sewage overflows onto the street of the city and exposing its inhabitants to contamination.

Raw sewage from Baalbek is discharged to Ras El Ain stream. Some of the sewers are purposely blocked to allow sewage to be diverted for irrigation. Raw sewage from Zahle and other nearby villages discharge their sewage into the Berdaouni River which flows through a tourist area (WadiEL Arayesh) with many restaurants along its banks (31).

This extensive channeling of the sewage to the water system leads back to humans, in various forms in their diets as part of the food chain, where the pollutants find their way through water to plants, to animals, and to humans. The viable sector affected by the chaotic sewage management is the water supply, both from ground and surface water. Surface water provides 65% of potable water, differing between seasons, and if contaminated affects a large portion of the citizens. Water authorities, in addition, use some 208 springs for domestic supply. The major ones are Jeita, Kachkouch, Habb, Nabaa, El Kadi Dalle, Afqa, Mar Semaan, El Madiq, Kfaroue, Nabaa El Tasseh, Rayan and Chamsine. Some authorities, such as Batroun, Metn, Bcharre, Jbail, Nabaa El Kadi, Kesrouan, and Chamsine, rely almost completely on surface water, which are Mostly contaminated by the sewage system, and other sources.

Of the 352 wells (32) used for potable water supplies, only 28 were provided with operating chlorinates in 1992, today the figures are much more encouraging. Eight of the water authorities, supplying 23% of the total population, undertake no disinfecting. In addition, service connections are not routinely maintained and constitute a major source of water losses, and contamination from nearby sewage channels. Repairs only take place at request of subscribers. Furthermore, civilians performed connections with no adherence to construction standards during the war, and estimated at 30% of the total connections.

The non-hazardous wastes liquid effluent and slurries containing a range of organic and inorganic chemicals generated from industrial manufacturing (12) add another variety of pollutants to the water system in the country. The 1994 Census identified 23,517 industrial units in the country, the size distribution varies by sector, with nearly half of the largest enterprise concentrated in food processing and beverages, clothing, cement and associated building products (11, 14, 17). The number of units by Mohafaza clearly indicates that there is a strong concentration of industries in the Mount-Lebanon and Greater Beirut Area (GBA) which together comprise 57% of industrial units and 70% of the industrial workforce (16), and found within residential areas, especially in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Spatial Distribution of Industry in the Lebanon

Mouhafaza No Industrial units Workforce
GBA 2849 16,766
Mount-Lebanon 10,532 81,033
North Lebanon 4585 18163
Bekaa 2260 9780
South Lebanon 2054 8383
Nabatiyeh 1237 5588
Total 23,517 139,713

MoIP. census of industries, 1994.

This phenomenon is also distributed mainly along the coastal strip from Beirut to Sour, and from Beirut to Tripoli; in the region of Zahle and central Bekaa; and along the road Rayak-Baalbek, and Chtoura-Syrian border (25,26).

Unfortunately, industrial waste is disposed off, untreated, through municipalities, in addition to other disposal routes include informal on-site incineration, disposal to wells, and informal dumping concentrated on the western slopes and foothills of Mount-Lebanon, leading to additional contamination of ground and surface water. Also many industrial processes use water for cooling purposes leading to thermal pollution when heated cooling water is released into streams and lakes, and changing the basic viable conditions for the survival of the marine life (20).

Although the impact of industrial discharges is focused on the coastal zone, the Litani river and Karaoun lake are seriously threatened by industrial run off from Zahle, Chtoura and Rayak, centers of agro processing (dairy products, wineries, food processing), the sugar beet factory at Anjar, Tanneries and Glue factories at Machghara, which discharge non-grading heavy metals such as chrome and arsenic (18,36). Today the river risks a complete drought.

Agricultural pollution comes indirectly from irrigation, and directly from organic wastes produced from farms in the form of manure slurries, silage effluent, and diary washings, which end up returning to man if tracked by the food chain (1). The size of this pollution resulted from the small agricultural enterprise runned by relatively non-professional agriculturists. This is reflected in the irrigation systems, techniques, and the use of agrochemicals. Application rate for irrigation is very high compared with crop demand, at around 14,000m3/ha compared with a median value of 6000-7000m3/ha (10,15). About one quarter of cultivated land is irrigated by basin flooding; most of that is in the Bekaa resulting in substantial system losses from damaged and traditional networks (about 40%). This system leads to extremely low efficiency in use, long term soil salination, and break down of soil structure.

Use of agrochemicals represents a direct polluting factor affecting the agricultural sector, and its concern is related to the excessive use of pesticides for irrigated crops. During the harvest season, when sprays are regularly required in green house and on irrigated lands, farmers rarely conform to the specified waiting period, and use of out-dated coarse sprays for application of pesticides, which encourages over use and poses health risks to consumers of crops (2,3). The current unregulated use of pesticides caused considerable levels of pesticides to enter the food chain, through contamination of ground and surface water as well as direct contamination of food product, and marine life.

Fertilizers are widely used in particular areas where agriculture is intensive, available at relatively low cost, distributed irregularly by the private sector. Its use is considered excessive, and detrimental to the country’s calcareous soils as well as contaminating water supplies (ground water) with nitrates. In addition, rainfall encourages the nitrate leaching which promote it’s movement to ground water (25). These pauses potential health risks to children and babies if the water is used as a drinking source (28).

Other impact originating from this over population is the gaseous polluting emission, which originate mainly from transportation, and industrial sectors. Emission from vehicles seems to be one of the greatest contributors, concentrated in and around the great cities (37). Traffic congestion in urban areas constrains economic productivity, damages people’s health, and worsens their quality of life. It is estimated that there are 320 vehicles/1000 people, which sum up to 62% of the domestic sector owning a car (6).

Emission Level in GBA

Pollutant type Daily emissions (tons) Average Annual Emissions (Tons)
NOx 45 30115
HC 54 36135
CO 225 150577
Lead 20.5 13731

Ministry of Environment (Transport Sector) 1998

The major gaseous emission from the transportation sector is CO, and is substantially higher than the WHO guide lines (22ppm) (7). This high concentration leads to a decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of people’s blood living in the area. NOx is released from the exhaust into the atmosphere, in the form of NO, reacts with ozone to form NO2, a respiratory irritant that exacerbate asthma, and increase susceptibility to infections. It also reacts with Hydrocarbons (HC) to form ozone, an eye irritant, which are released into the atmosphere, and observed on a sunny summer day as smog in locations where the airmass has previously collected emissions of HC and NO2. It may persist for several days and be transported to long distances from the source, and thus affect the rural areas.

Unleaded fuel is not widely spread in the Lebanon, so the emission of lead and its compounds could be a threat to the human health. The GBA area shows total vehicle lead emission around 720 Kg/day (38). The estimates of lead in the atmosphere represent significant quantities and suggest that in heavily trafficked regions, lead can cause health problems, especially to children’s IQ living and learning in those areas (28).

Atmospheric dust concentrations in the coastal areas are likely to be high because of the dry climate, whereas in the mountains they are lower where the soil is less dry. In addition, vehicle movement over unpaved roads, and agricultural activities contribute significantly to the ambient concentration of particulate matter, and especially in rural areas. Winds from the Arab dessert, especially from Egypt, offers its share to this climate stress during the springtime via the Khamasine winds hitting the coastal regions. In addition, Lebanon is believed to be affected by the fission products released into the atmosphere in large quantities by nuclear-bomb tests from Europe and the former Soviet Union; knowing that these products are concentrated between latitudes 30 and 60 degrees in both hemispheres, and that the country is hit by a succession of distributed cyclonic conditions from that continent in winter (35).

The industrial sector contributes another set of pollutants to the pollution profile of the country. The emissions covered are consequently those associated with the combustion processes. These include CO2, SO2, NOx, and total suspended particulate (TSP). The major industries of Lebanon include electricity, petroleum products, cement, chemicals, rubber, plastics, paper, ceramics, foodstuffs, textiles, and garments, and metal products. Emissions from the cement plants depend on the fuel used to fire the Kiln, and consist of the four pollutants of combustion, in addition particulate emission originating from the final product for the handling of the raw material. These dust emissions led to significant deteriorating effects in and around the plants. Selaata Fertilizer Factory (Chekka) produces, in addition to the four pollutants of combustion, triple super phosphate, simple super phosphate, and fluoride, which is a harmful gas to humans and animals. Winds from the south and west sectors predominate, but the foothills of Mount-Lebanon just inland may present a barrier to dispersion and emissions from the plant, thus affecting the ambient concentration of these pollutants in Batroun and nearby areas.

Sugar-beet Factory located in Majdel-Anjar, in south Bekaa plain represent a major emitter of combustion pollutant to this area, in addition to the sugar dust from the dry mill. The mountains to the north represent a barrier and emissions are channeled along the plain, to the northeast (14,11,17).

CFCs, gases commonly found in urban areas, and originate from the refrigerators and air-conditions, were extensively used for recharge of equipment, foam making, over stocking, and fire fighting. The ozone layer over the Middle East has become fragile, as a result of the petroleum combustion gases released during the gulf war (8). This pushed the government to ban the further import of halons, and replaced their use by non-ODS substitutes (13).

Sources of CH4 in the Lebanon other than combustion have not been quantified. One relatively important source is the municipal waste landfill sites, of which there are two major ones in Beirut and a large one in Tripoli. Annual methane production from Beirut sites is likely to be approximately 5000 tons for the next ten years as of 1994, relative to the global warming effect of CO2, over the next 100 years, considering CH4 is 21 times more potent.

The fuel oil for power generation in the Lebanon contains a maximum of 2.5% sulfur by wt. Most of the sulfur in the fuel is emitted as sulfur dioxide, with small proportion being emitted as sulfur trioxide (SO3), from Jieh TTH (fuel oil), Zouk TTH (Fuel oil), Zouk TG (Gas oil), and Hrayche TTH (fuel oil). Zouk TTH is the largest emitter of SO2. Jieh TTH emits about half the SO2 emitted by Zouk TTH. The Jieh stacks are only 43m, and consequently will result in maximum ground level concentration approximately twice that attributable to Zouk TTH. Furthermore, the maximum annual average concentration will occur at a distance of 1 km in case of Jieh TTH, compared with 3-5km in the case of Zouk TTH. So the impact of the SO2 emissions on air quality from the shorter stacks at Jieh may well be greater than the impact of the taller stacks at Zouk TTH, knowing that SO2 is a corrosive gas and form acid rain with water vapor in the atmosphere. This effect is not pronounced due to the relatively alkaline soil of the country (9).

The burning of the heavy fuel oil in power stations for the generation of electricity is by far the major contributor to overall CO2 emissions. The annual emission of CO2 constitute only 0.037% of global emissions of greenhouse gases. This is considered to be of no significant global importance, nor a priority policy area for national government.

Residential consumers use also, privately generated power, and so does the industrial sector. Private generators do not have any emission control devices and so present a far less efficient and more polluting option for power generation compared to EDL. It is likely that the majority of this emissions were in the GBA and to a lesser extent, Tripoli, and El-Mina. Today with the rehabilitation of the power sector, use of private generators has declined sharply.


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Council for Development and Reconstruction, 1994. Team International, Iaurif, Sofretu Greater Beirut Transportation Plan, Population and Employment Forecasts.
METAP, October 1993. Tripoli/El-Mina Environmental Audit (Draft).
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World Health Organization (WHO), 1987. Guidelines for Europe, European Series Number 23.
ALME. Ozone Stratospherique et effet de serre: Le Liban Face aux Problemes des CFC.
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Ministry of industry and Petroleum, 1994. Report on Industrial Census: First and Preliminary Phase.
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UNEP, 1995. Phasing out the Ozone Depleting Substances in Lebanon. National Working Committee on Ozone Depleting Substances- Country Program.
Bechtel, 1991. Industry. Recovery Planning for the Reconstruction and Development of Lebanon, Working paper 21.
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CDR, 1994. Horizon 2000: Appendix: Elaboration of the Program of Rising of the Public Sector, No.10 (Environment).
Helweh and Hamzeh M, 1994. Etude Bacteriologique de 38 Echantillons Preleves de la Cote du Liban Nord. Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research, Beirut.
Khawlie M, 1991. Industrial Pollution: Case study in Lebanon- Area of Chekaa, Batroun. Symposium on the Industry and Environment protection.
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Mansour L 1993. Pollution: Sources and Effects on Marine Life. Symposium on Marine Environment in Lebanon, UNESCO.
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Unchecked pollution chokes Lebanon’s rivers

August 26, 2011 01:44 AM

By Niamh Fleming-Farrell

The Daily Star
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BEIRUT: “Let me tell you one thing,” Raghida Haddad, the executive editor of Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia, a Lebanese environment and development magazine, says. “There are 12 rivers in Lebanon that go into the sea, and you can call them sewers.

”Poisoned with effluent and often strewn with garbage, Lebanon’s rivers are grotty and unwell. They should be both a source of usable water and recreation, but a report published by the United Nations Development Program and the Environment Ministry in 2010 compiled data showing that rivers, both coastal and inland, contain unacceptable levels of raw sewage. In many, E-coli and coliform are not only above acceptable levels for drinking water, they are also above levels acceptable for bathing water as set by the Environment Ministry.

Blessed among its neighbors in terms of water potential, Lebanon’s contaminated rivers are both a source of sickness and disease and a contributor to the pollution of the country’s coast and marine life.

Haddad points out that the high concentration of heavy metals in river water can accumulate in the human body, affecting the nervous and digestive systems and damaging the heart and kidneys. Meanwhile Mark Saadeh, PhD, a hydrogeology specialist, recites a phrase well known in his profession: “The health of a marine environment is determined by the state of rivers.”

The interconnection of aquifers, rivers, seas and oceans means that pollutants added to any one of these will inevitably affect the others.

Saadeh pulls up a file on his computer and opens a series of images of the Litani river, Lebanon’s longest waterway. The pictures show a bright green, algae-covered channel. “It’s turned into a sewer system,” Saadeh says. “It’s not even moving; it’s stagnant.”

He explains how older people living along the river describe a time when it was clear and fast flowing, and they would happily use it for swimming and as a source of drinking water.

But since Saadeh first studied the waterway as a consultant with the Litani River Authority some five or six years ago, it has looked just as it does in his photographs. “It cannot get any worse than this,” he says.

What has happened can be explained with a short science lesson, which Saadeh provides. The high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus found in fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture and in raw sewage and detergents seep into the country’s rivers and ultimately groundwater sources. Once in the rivers, these nutrients set off the process of eutrophication, whereby their addition induces an excessive growth of algae and plankton, clogging up the waterway, greatly reducing water quality and bringing about the collapse of the river’s natural ecosystem.

The solutions to this problem appear obvious: regulate use of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides and treat wastewater to avoid the seepage of raw sewage into rivers. But, Saadeh says, “precious little” is being done to address river pollution.

“There’s a huge black hole between legislation and execution [in Lebanon],” he says in explanation for the seemingly unregulated use of fertilizers. However, where a significant impact may be made – in the treatment of raw sewage – Lebanon fails on a grand scale. It is the “only country in the Middle East not treating its wastewater, save Yemen, I believe,” Saadeh says.

Haddad is of a similar view. The “authorities are not doing anything,” she says. “There is not one functioning wastewater treatment plant [in Lebanon].” Wastewater treatment plants have been built in the country. As he goes through his photographs, Saadeh points out one located next to the Qaraoun dam on the Litani. “It isn’t functional,” he says.

Former Environment Minister Mohammad Rahal says that many international organizations, the UNDP, USAID and EU among them, have helped Lebanon build works to treat its wastewater, but these WWTPs have not been maintained by the government. He believes there are two possible causes for WWTPs falling into disoperation in Lebanon: perhaps the budget for their maintenance is insufficient or unavailable, or perhaps a lack of coordination between the ministries responsible for them (the Environment Ministry and the Water and Energy Ministry), the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the municipalities leads to confusion over who is tasked with maintaining the plants.

Saadeh adds to this that projects like WWTPs are high-tech and require not only money but also expertise to remain operational.

Haddad does point out though that there are plans to build a number of WWTPs both on the coast and inland. The Energy and Water Ministry although contacted to verify use and construction of WWTPs had not responded at time of print.

The pollution of Lebanon’s rivers also impacts the country’s economy. Beyond the obvious negative repercussions of pollution on tourism, pollution also harms the agricultural and industrial sectors’ potential.

Farmers tap contaminated river water to irrigate their crops, and Rahal says this has resulted in the country’s exported produce being returned.

“The EU sends vegetables back because of pollution,” he says. “We can only sell in Lebanon.”

Meanwhile the decreased water quantity available due to pollution curtails opportunities to establish industry. “Limited water resources make some industries impossible,” Saadeh says. “There’ll be no Levi’s factory in Lebanon.” (Tony Allan, a British geographer, estimates that a pair of jeans takes 11,000 liters of water to produce.)

Saadeh argues that the best thing Lebanon can do to deal with water pollution aside from building wastewater treatment plants is educate its citizens about water conservation.

“Water quantity is inextricably linked to pollution because water efficiency and conservation would lead to reduction in effluent volumes,” he says.

As an initial step, he suggests metering water use and charging people on the basis of the volume used rather than a flat rate for an annual water connection. He also recommends revision of the irrigation systems used in agriculture – the furrow, flood, and sprinkler irrigation systems favored in Lebanon use larger quantities of water and are much less efficient than drip irrigation systems. Finally, he recommends the installation of more discerning household plumbing – toilet flush systems that give the option of both a smaller and a larger flush would be a good starting point, Saadeh says.

But, he concludes, “change is going to require a shock to the system.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 26, 2011, on page 12.

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Air pollution threatens health in Beirut

Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

A graph showing the average distribution of nitrogen dioxide over Beirut. Areas in brown have the highest values.Saint Joseph University

About 93% of Beirut’s population is exposed to high levels of air pollution, according to a study by researchers at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Air pollution is a major environmental risk factor for poor health and causes about 2 million premature deaths worldwide each year.

The researchers presented the findings of a two-year study on air pollution at a seminar at AUB on 6 May. The study was carried out by the AUB and Saint Joseph University (USJ) in Beirut, in collaboration with the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS). It involved collecting samples of air from various regions in Beirut between 2008 and 2010.

In 2010, across the city, the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful air pollutant, was 58 micrograms per cubic metre of air. This exceeds the maximum average concentration recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO): 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

Nitrogen dioxide is produced by burning fossil fuels. Most of the nitrogen dioxide in cities is released from motor vehicles. Each car emits 1.6 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide per year. To offset the emissions from a single vehicle, at least 160 two-year-old trees would need to be planted each year. Lebanon has a large number of cars on its streets — the same number per capita as Japan, despite Japan covering an area that is roughly 36 times larger.

“In Beirut, as in many other overpopulated capitals, traffic is the main source of air pollution,” said Najat Saliba, a chemist at AUB who led the study.

Saliba proposed imposing staggered working hours and encouraging car pooling and bicycle use to ease the traffic on the streets of Beirut. She also suggested promoting public transport and building electric train lines.

Such strategies have been successful elsewhere. Istanbul, one of the most polluted cities in the world in the 1980s, managed to improve air quality by improving its public transportation network and installing an electric tram system.

According to the researchers’ findings, the average amount of airborne particulate matter, which in Beirut is created by dusty streets, wear and tear on tyres and incomplete combustion of fuel, is at least double that recommended in the WHO guidelines.

Breathing in large amounts of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter increases the likelihood of respiratory problems. These pollutants can inflame the lining of the lungs and reduce immunity to lung infections. Pulmonologist Marie-Louise Coussa-Koniski, from Rizk Hospital in Beirut, warned that “the number of cases of asthma, rhino-sinusitis and interstitial lung disease in Lebanon has been rising significantly over the past decade”. And the overall prevalence of asthma in Lebanon is at least 50% higher than that in Europe or the United States.

Such heavy pollution affects the cost of public health care. “The country could gain up to $16 million from lost work days and save up to $3.2 million in hospital visits annually if it would reduce its particulate matter by only 10 micrograms per cubic metre,” said Jad Chaaban, an economist in AUB’s Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

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For the first time in Lebanon American University of Beirut Launches an Air Pollution Study in a Moving Van

The Atmospheric and Analytical Laboratory (AAL) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) under the supervision of Dr. Najat A. Saliba with the support of Rasamny Younis Motor Company – RYMCO, Nissan’s exclusive dealer in Lebanon and Bank Audi sal – Audi Saradar Group launched their new environmental study that aims to monitor the air pollution caused by traffic.

A first of its kind in Lebanon, this project will measure the particulate matter (PM) generated by biogenic and anthropogenic sources among which vehicles are major contributors through a real-time device installed in a Nissan Urvan moving Van. The van, exclusively offered by Nissan for this project, will travel along a busy road connecting Beirut to Jounieh for one year starting today from 7:00am until 10:00 am and from 5:00pm until 8:00 pm on both sides of the roadway.

“In Beirut, as in many other overpopulated capital, traffic is the main source of air pollution,” said Dr. Najat A. Saliba, specialist in air pollution and Associate Professor at the Chemistry Department at AUB. “Numerous studies have determined that air pollution caused by traffic near residential areas affects the health. We aim throughout the year to study, understand and assess the levels of PMs so that the results will benefit the public sector and guide them in their pursuit of new and efficient rules and regulations.” She added.

“Being part of the automobile industry mandates that we take a responsible role in developing strategies to help address air pollution and its consequences, one of the highest priorities of environmental issues in line with Nissan two-pillar strategy for year 2010”, said RYMCO’s CEO, Abdo Sweidan. “We are confident that if more companies realize the impact of simple measures such as these have on reducing environmental harm, perhaps more of them will become carbon neutral,” he added.

As for Mr. Ibrahim Salibi, Assistant General Manager – Head of Corporate and Commercial Banking at Bank Audi sal – Audi Saradar Group, he added: “As the leading bank in Lebanon, we strongly believe we have a civic role to play within the community we operate in. It is from this perspective that we owe it to ourselves and to society to give the environment the importance it deserves. This specific initiative of measuring the quality of the air and the pollution in Lebanon is key to the blooming of environment-friendly schemes which can only contribute to the well-being of the community.”

Measuring PM levels will report, for the first time in Lebanon, drivers and passengers’ exposure during their travel to and out of Beirut. Results will serve as basis for studies on the impact of traffic pollution on the population’s health while highlighting to the public sector the imminent need for traffic measurements and regulations.

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Air pollution link to cancer in Lebanon

July 28, 2010 12:00 AM

By Ismail Abbas

The Daily Star

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Uncontrolled usage and/or release of chemicals in Lebanon may increase the risk of developing cancer. Successive wars on Lebanon, usage of excessive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, smoking of cigarettes and pipes, combustion of low-quality fuel, diesel exhausts, and dust from quarrying locations are among the main sources of these chemicals.

Scientists have discovered clear evidence linking different types of cancer to air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sooty and fine particles and nitrogen oxides.

Pollutants in Beirut’s air have reached concentration levels so high the substances are now toxic for human health, The Daily Star published last month.

In the corresponding article, professor Jocelyne Adjizan Gerard and Christelle Bakhache mentioned that the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) peaked at the alarming levels of 50 to 60 micrograms per square meter between 2003 and 2010.

They also notified that “the values we found for Beirut were well above norms defined by the World Health Organization regarding air pollution.”

Moreover, a study has found that the risk for childhood cancer is heightened by exposure to the particular air pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which is produced by car exhaust fumes. This in fact reflects how serious the consequences of air pollution on public health in Lebanon are.

To date, no direct link was established between air pollution and cancer in Lebanon.

However, researchers in the US, UK and Canada have identified a link between air pollution and pneumonia, peptic ulcer, coronary and rheumatic heart diseases, lung and stomach cancers. In this context, the chairman of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP), professor Jon Ayres said: “The evidence that exposure to air pollutants has important effects on the cardiovascular system is of public health and calls for greater research.”

Similarly, professor George Knox from Birmingham University found an exceptional link between high rates of fatal pneumonia and exhaust fumes. He suggested that fine carbon particles largely generated by diesel exhausts are leading to the damage of the lungs and cause harmful changes in blood vessels and clotting.

In Lebanon, the levels of air pollution and the number of patients diagnosed with cancer are increasing also. These findings underline the need to further reduce levels of air pollution in Lebanon in order to protect public health.

Air pollution does not discriminate between young and old. It is therefore essential that we all work together to minimize pollution levels.

The Lebanese government is directly responsible for decreasing air-pollution levels. Obviously, it does not need to introduce new rules and regulations to control this problem. Only rules issued previously by consecutive governments need to be respected and implemented.

For instance, annual tests of vehicle safety, road-worthiness aspects and exhaust emissions must be strictly applied with no exceptions.

On the other hand, according to the Association for Forest Development and Conservation, forest fires between 1993 and 2005 amount to 70.600 fires in different parts of the country.

The number of burned areas yearly tremendously increased in 2006-2007 due to the July 2006 war and to the October 2007 fires, which burned huge forested areas in only a few days. Therefore, the government must take action today to reforest Lebanon before it’s too late. Many other actions could be taken by the government to control pollution and reduce cancer.

Finally, controlling air pollution could help cut the Public Health Ministry’s cost of treating patients with cancer. This would also bring other benefits such as cutting emissions causing climate change.

Professor Ismail Abbas is a Lecturer of Physical and Organic Chemistry at the Beirut Arab University.

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