Last month, news emerged of waste being disposed into the sea near the Bourj Hammoud landfill. The Minister of Environment stated that the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) was responsible: “The contract between the contractor and the Council for Development and Reconstruction stipulates that trash from this landfill would be disposed of at sea.” Supposedly, the purpose of this process would be to reclaim land.
The Bourj Hammoud landfill is one of the two new landfills that are meant to replace the one in Naameh, which was shut down in July 2015 sparking the waste crisis. For almost two years, the waste of Beirut and Mount Lebanon has been managed haphazardly and under no strategy.
Due to a number of issues, the landfills were not able to fully alleviate the burden caused by the crisis. Both landfills were controversial and have been challenged legally. One of the main problems with these landfills is the lack of planning that went into selecting the locations. Both landfills are located near the coast in densely populated areas. The second landfill in Costa Brava also posed a risk to the nearby airport.
During the civil war the Bourj Hamoud coast was used as an uncontrolled dump until 1997. The closure of the Bourj Hammoud dumpsite was followed by the government establishing the Solid Waste Emergency Plan, which set up the Naameh landfill. The civil war dumpsite at Bourj Hammoud was never rehabilitated and the site currently hosts waste that is decades old.
Annahar newspaper contacted the CDR to ask them about what they plan to do with the old waste when the construction of the new landfill started. CDR responded that the contractor is taking protective measures and that the waste is 25 years and is therefore mostly “inert.” It is not clear that proper testing was undertaken to ensure that the waste is indeed inert. This is especially worrying taking into consideration that during the civil war (and even more recently) there was no control over what is disposed at the dumpsite. It is very likely that hazardous waste is mixed with municipal waste, as is the case in most of Lebanon’s dumps. In addition, the waste most probably includes Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which are found in textiles, pesticides and various plastic products. POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation, are known to bioaccumulate and have potential adverse impacts on human health and the environment. Use of POPs has been curbed globally since the Stockholm Convention came into effect in 2004. It is therefore likely that the workers at the site are continuously exposed to hazards they are not even aware of.
A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Environment estimated the societal costs POPs in Lebanon. The report used Bourj Hammoud as a case study and estimates that the residents living in proximity to the dump face an aggregate cost of USD 7.4 million a year from an increase in cardiovascular diseases, which are linked to exposure to POPs.
It is therefore imperative that the waste at Bourj Hammoud be studied more carefully, with proper testing and feasibility analysis conducted, to decide on how it should be best be treated and handled. Lebanon’s dumps should not be treated as a fait accompli citing a “crisis mode” on every occasion. Scientific methods should remain the only means of handling them. It is the duty of the government and civil society to ensure that.