Al mashriq - The Levant

(Courtesy of The Daily Star, July 2, 1998)

Sea is a toxic soup, warns Greenpeace
Families swimming off Beirut’s public beach unaware of sewage, industrial waste and toxins discharged into water

Reem Haddad
Daily Star staff

Five-year-old Fala Issa splashed around at the Ramlet al-Baida public beach yesterday, while her father watched on unconcerned. On both sides of the beach, a few metres away, pumps dumped tonnes of untreated sewage into the sea. The murky brown water did little to alarm the swimmers.
“There is no sewage here. This is only the mud coming up from the sea. That’s what violent waves do,” the father, Bilal Issa, said confidently.
But the sea seemed calm with  no sign of “violent” waves.
“So where else are we supposed to go?” asked 25-year-old Amin Haiteh. “We can’t afford beach resorts with pools. It’s either here or filling up the bathtub at home.”
Scanning the water for his children, Imad Qassar was shocked. “Sewage here?” he said, clearly alarmed. “Why aren’t there signs warning of the sewage pumps? How are we supposed to know? I’ll never bring my family back here.”
On learning of the sewage pipes, Karima Abdullah, her six children in tow, decided to “go to further up or down”, she said.
But she will not find cleaner waters. There are ten sewage pipes between Ramlet al-Baida and St Georges alone. If she ventures north or to the south, she will have to put up not only with sewage water but chemical toxins as well.
A Greenpeace report released yesterday said many areas along the coast and several rivers are polluted by “a toxic cocktail of industrial outflow, leachate from waste dumps and untreated sewage”.
Greenpeace activists last year took a six-day boat tour along the coast from Tyre to Akkar, taking samples along the way and from industrial areas, including the Bekaa Valley, Beirut and along the rivers of Bardawni, Ghazayel, Litani, Zahrani and Ibrahim.The results were far from reassuring.
“The samples contained high levels of toxic heavy metal like lead, mercury and cadmium,” said Fouad Hamdan, Greenpeace representative. “Sea water between Khaldeh and Jounieh is highly polluted. Especially, between Bourj Hammoud and Jounieh where industries are dumping their chemicals into the sea”.
Highly polluted areas include Tyre, Ghazieh, Sidon, Beirut  mainly the stretches between Khaldeh and Ouzai, Beirut Port and Jounieh Chekka, Selaata, Tripoli and Abdeh.
Greenpeace said toxic industrial solid waste is expected to increase from 18,000 tonnes per year in 1994 to about 64,000 tonnes in 2020. Industrial waste water is expected to rise from about 61,000 metres3 a day to almost 200,000 metres3.
But avoiding the sea doesn’t necessarily mean safety from bacteria and chemical toxins. Because fish feed on human waste, fishermen are attracted to sewage dumping areas.
“Not only is there a direct risk of infection by sewage pathogenic organisms capable of causing disease but also considerable risks associated with the consumption of contaminated and improperly prepared seafood,” the report said.
Bacteria found in the sea include salmonella, shingella, staphylococcus and pseudomonus. So consumers eating contaminated fish or seafood may be hit by paralysis, fever, meningitis, respiratory disease, diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis, vomiting and hepatitis.
“If contaminated seafood, like oysters or sea urchins, is eaten raw then bacteria remains,” said Dr Ghassan Awar, a disease specialist. “Heat sterilises bacteria but  does not affect the chemical toxins in the fish.”
Greenpeace identified the main polluters as: Adonis pesticides; Elie Mwannes Plastics; Seven plastics chemical; Lebanese-Spanish Tannery; Mimosa paper factory; Sanita; Tino paint factory and detergent producers like Oteri; Cimenterie Nationale; Societe de Ciments Libanais; Sibline Cement. Also implicated were coastal and inland dumpsites in Tripoli, Bourj Hammoud, Normandie, Saida and Tyre; and heavily industrialised coastal or river areas, such as Antelias and Zouk.