Lebanon’s toxic history

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National Geographic

On Monday, custom officials confiscated radioactive material at the Beirut port. The officials found “industrial and kitchen goods that contain dangerous radioactive material [that threaten] public health.” Lebanon also has a history for receiving toxic waste from developed countries. During the civil war foreign companies paid Lebanese militia leaders to dispose of various types of industrial waste in the country. Between 1987 and 1988, an Italian firm allegedly dumped 2,400 tons of chemical waste on Lebanese soils. In 1988, barrels of hazardous waste were discovered on the Keserwan shore and off the coast of Tyre, and 2,411 tons of waste was discovered in East Beirut. Even after the civil war Lebanon was still receiving this toxic waste. In 1996, Greenpeace helped uncover German, Russian, and Lebanese traders that were involved in of illegally shipping 36 containers full of 680 tons of plastic, chemical and outdated medical waste. These practices caused a lot of controversy and in 1995 two Lebanese men were charged with illegally importing 24,000 tons of industrial waste during the civil war.

Dumping waste in developing countries is a widespread problem around the world. According to the UN, millions of tons of old electronic goods are illegally exported to developing countries. It is technically legal to export used goods that can reused. However, non-functional electronic waste is being labeled as used goods and being exported out of the developed world. The European Environment Agency estimates that between 250,000 and one million tons of used electronic equipment is shipped out of the EU every year. Most of these goods are treated in inadequate informal sectors causing severe environmental pollutions and health risks.

The Basel Convention is an international treaty that covers the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. Currently, 182 states have signed and ratified the treaty. In 1989, the Lebanese delegation to the Basel Convention reported about the illegal dumping of Italian waste during the civil war. The Basel Action Network (BAN) is a nongovernmental charitable organization with a mandate to ban the export of toxic waste. Without proper government controls in the developing world the BAN face an impossible task. Lebanon’s bleak history in imported waste and the current radioactive scandal show that a more diligent and sustainable mechanism is needed to prevent these hazardous materials from illegally finding their way into the country.

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About Ecocentra

This is the blog for Ecocentra, an environmental and development consultancy outfit striving for an ecologically intelligent world. All posts on are written by Lama Bashour and Marwan El Solh. Our company website is http://ecocentra.me. Follow us on Twitter @ecocentra

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