Last week, the American University of Beirut warned their faculty and staff not to swim in the AUB beach through an email stating that the “level of bacteria exceeded the acceptable limits for bathing water quality”. A week later, AUB sent out another email stating that the water is now safe for swimming because the “bacteria dropped to acceptable bathing water quality limit.”
AUB routinely tests water samples at their beach and discloses the results to their faculty and staff. While the actual level of each parameter is not disclosed, AUB informs its staff if the water is safe, poor, or unsafe for bathing. The parameters tested are Fecal Coliforms and Total Coliforms. Fecal coliform bacteria is found in bodily waste and animal droppings. Fecal coliform exists in the intestines of warm blooded animals. Total coliform consist of Fecal Coliform and other groups of Coliform bacteria that are found in the soil.
These two parameters are routinely tested for indications of biological pollution in Lebanon because of the practice of dumping raw sewage in the sea. High levels of fecal coliform indicate the contamination of animal droppings or human sewage. It is important to understand this in order to identify the main source of pollution and not to attribute it to another pollution source.
It has been suggested that the pollution cited by AUB is from the two newly established landfills in Costa Brava and Bourj Hammoud. However, while the improper disposal of solid waste on the coast has many adverse impacts, especially to water resources, it is not a major source of coliforms. The culprit in this case is most likely the raw sewage flowing into the sea. While it is essential for common pollutants found in solid waste, such as heavy metals and chemicals, are also tested. Understanding the source of each pollutant and prioritizing solutions that preserve sea water quality in Lebanon are the only way forward.