Beirut stinks : when will the root of the problem be tackled?
The Ministry of the Environment and Council for Development and Reconstruction announced on Tuesday that they contracted a foreign company to perform a field study on the problem and to recommend solutions. The move raises a number of questions, namely: why invest in dealing with the stench before tackling the root problem, which is the absence of a sustainable solution for the treatment of household waste? The timing of the study is especially interesting as the Minister of the Environment, Fady Jreissati, already spoke of plans to expand the Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh landfill and Costa Brava is already being expanded. How much will the study of the causes of the stench cost? And what will be done about the pollution causing the odors in the first place?
In a statement on Tuesday, the Ministry of Environment announced it had contracted a specialized company to determine the source of the smells and help find a solution. The ministry also published a report by Aime Menassa, an international consultant of Lebanese origin hired by the ministry, representative of NoraSystem and a specialist in the treatment of bad smells in communities, manufacturing and the agricultural sector. Menassa visited five sites–the Amroussiye sorting center, the Costa Brava landfill and Ghadir River running through it, the Coral composting site in Qarantina, the Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh landfills and Nahr Beirut and the river from Metn that runs through them and finally a cattle farm near the airport–and concluded that the bad smells are coming from fresh garbage in the process of putrefying or composting, poorly stabilized compost, sewage in rivers, livestock farms, animal excrement and slaughterhouses.
The report also said that the area most affected by the smells, especially during the evening, stretches from Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh to Chiyah-Hadeth and includes the lower and northern part of Achrafieh and the area surrounding the airport where the odor of sewage and manure is prevalent.
The estimated cost post-test
L’Orient-Le Jour (OLJ) asked Menassa, who is currently in France, about possible treatments for the problem. The aim is to use “products that eliminate odors as a result of the mineralization of odor molecules. In other words, the product acts on the source of the smell by making it take an odorless mineral form,” Menassa said. "This is exactly what happens in nature, where the odor is gradually destroyed by the intervention of a natural chemical combination… But instead of taking time like in nature, this process is accelerated by the product and only takes a few seconds to work."
The odor reducing products are made from natural materials without additional chemicals, and there are several different substances that can be used for different odors, according to Menassa, who added that the products are not expensive, but it is still too early to establish how much it will cost to deodorize large areas of Beirut. "We have to run the tests within 15 days to three weeks to determine the doses to use," he said. “Then we can launch an action plan. It should be known that this action is not at all unique to Lebanon, as such treatments are being used in 52 countries. "
But is it possible to completely get rid of harmful and nauseating odors without treating their root causes? "It is clear that it is better to put in place long-term solutions to existing problems," Menassa said. “Instead of letting the sewage pour into the sea, it is better to build a sewage treatment plant or introduce sorting at the source in order to prevent the waste from entering the sorting centers in their original state... Only then will it be possible to treat odors in these structures. But as things currently stand, we can only put an end to the odor nuisance."
Hydrogen sulfide: a dangerous gas emanating from landfills
For many, treating the odor does not amount to eliminating pollution. "How can we consider treating odors without treating their sources?” asked Najat Aoun Saliba, director of the Center for Nature Conservation at the American University of Beirut and a specialist in air pollution. “What are they trying to do? Isolate the smell in the air and dismantle it? Spray products through giant chimneys over landfills? When there is a source of smell, we try to treat it and not just cover it up. But I have to wait to find out what they really intend to do before I give my opinion."
"The Ministry of the Environment, which has such a small budget, prefers to spend money on treating the odors rather than on treating the source of the problem,” Aoun Saliba continued. "What will be the cost of this operation?"
The issue goes deeper than just the smell, Aoun Saliba added. A study carried out by the Center for Nature Conservation found that gases emitted by the rotting garbage can also be dangerous to people’s health. “The most dangerous gas that emerges from the waste, as we have measured it with the means at hand, is hydrogen sulfide or (H2S), which has serious consequences on health, particularly on that of children," she said.
The Center for Nature Conservation’s study found that the concentration of hydrogen sulfide near Bourj Hammoud can reach 51 micrograms per cubic meter, according to data it published on Facebook. The study compared these findings with another recent study conducted in China in an area with a concentration nearly 10 times lower (4.9 micrograms per cubic meter) than that in Bourj Hammoud. In the Chinese case, the study showed there was a decrease in immunity and a deterioration of respiratory function among residents in the surrounding area, especially children, and established a strong link between hydrogen sulfide levels and problems arising from the reduction of lung functioning. A map made by the Center for Nature Conservation shows that 25 schools and 10 hospitals are located in the area exposed to the highest concentrations of hydrogen sulfide near the Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh landfill.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 12th of June)