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Where is it safe to swim in Lebanon this summer?


Fourteen points along the Lebanese coast are safe for swimming, eight are polluted by wastewater and four are in critical condition, according to this year’s assessment of beach safety conducted by the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS). The findings were expected, but for the first time this year three ministers attended the press conference announcing the results.

Waiting for the CNRS’s findings has become a yearly ritual at the start of every summer season. This year, the results of the water pollution tests were published on June 18. The event is highly anticipated even though the results are similar year after year due to the failure to implement radical measures for sewage water treatment and the sustainable treatment of both household and industrial waste.

There are still many beaches where it is safe to swim, according to the report presented by the CNRS’s Center for Marine Research at Tuesday’s press conference, which was attended by Minister of Environment, Fady Jreissati, Minister of Agriculture Hassan Lakkis and Minister of Tourism Avedis Guidanian. But at beaches that were already polluted, such as Ramlet el-Baida and Chekka-Selaata, conditions appear to have gotten worse, offering proof of the consequences of persistent negligence.

The beaches considered clean

So where is it safe to swim in Lebanon this summer? As in previous years, the CNRS report focused on public beaches at 26 locations along the Lebanese coast (see maps at the end of the article). So far, the center has not been granted access to private beaches. From north to south, the beaches that were found to be clean–meaning where the water has a low rate of bacteria and chemical pollution–are: Miniyeh beach near the municipal stadium in Tripoli, Anfeh and Deir al-Natour beaches, “hima” beach in Batroun, Bahsa and the sandy beach in Jbeil, Fidar, Nahr Ibrahim, Tabarja, Maameltein, Ain al-Mreisseh between the new fishing port and Riviera, Damour, the Tyre nature reserve and the beach north of Naqoura Harbor.

All these beaches (especially Batroun and Naqoura) have a bacteria pollution rate that does not exceed 200 colonies of bacteria per 100 milliliters of water, which means they are safe for swimming.

The most hazardous beaches

Eight beaches were deemed to be less suitable for swimming due to water pollution. From north to south, they are: Klayaat Akkar beach, Jaziret Abdel Wahab in Tripoli’s Mina area and the public beach in Tripoli, the stretch of beaches between Koubba and Selaata, which are polluted by chemicals as opposed to bacteria, Dbayeh, Antelias, which is the beach most polluted with bacteria and Manara and Ramlet al-Baida in Beirut, which are very popular beaches and landmarks in the capital, but suffer from untreated sewage dumped into the sea.

There are also beaches that are considered to be in critical condition, including: Heri beach, contaminated with bacteria and possibly also chemicals, the beach in Rmayleh and Deir el-Makhalles, the public beach in Saida, which saw a short-lived improvement last year, but has apparently become a dumping point for wastewater again this year, and Sarafand.

The CNRS study follows standards adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) that say a beach in critical condition displays bacteria pollution in the water ranging between 201 and 500 bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters. The eight beaches categorized as the most polluted have more than 500 colonies per 100 milliliters.

Antelias Beach, for example, has 36,000 fecal nodules per 100 milliliters and 20,000 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters of water. The limit is 200. Ramlet al-Baida and Manara both have 10,000 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters. This is a result of persistent negligence of wastewater treatment both in the capital and in other regions.

Record heavy metal concentration in Bourj Hammoud

This year’s CNRS report also included a graph measuring the level of heavy metals in marine sediments in some coastal areas. The findings showed that concentrations of cadmium, lead, copper and vanadium are higher than normal, sometimes much higher, as in the case of the area around the three landfills in Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh.

At the press conference, secretary general of the CNRS Mouin Hamze laid out a number of recommendations including "ensuring the application of international technical standards in household waste landfills" as well as treating both municipal and industrial wastewater. He confirmed to L’Orient-Le Jour that the pollution around the Bourj Hammoud-Jdeideh landfill is particularly severe. Costa Brava has not been examined, he said, adding that the site is known to be affected by pollution from the Ghadir River.

Hamze also warned that industrial pollution on the coast, shown by chemical pollution in the water in Chekka and Selaata, is a serious problem, describing it as equally as serious as the pollution of the Latani.

When asked by the media about the issue of landfills, Environment Minister Fady Jreissati again assured that the two administrations of the coastal government-sponsored landfills have installed leachate treatment equipment (waste liquid), reiterating that "there is no contact between the waste and the sea”. He added that pollution in sediments may result from past mistakes. Faced with questions about the possible collapse of garbage into the sea, especially in Bourj Hammoud, he said he was ready to hold another tour of the site. Regarding the treatment of wastewater, he explained that the issue falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Energy and Water, but tenders have been launched to operate stations in sensitive areas, which will improve the situation.

Finally, according to the report, fish caught off the coast of Lebanon are safe for consumption since the heavy metal levels they contain are below the standards set by the WHO–with the exception of fish caught with rods at sewer drains, of course.

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 19th of June)

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