Unipack insists it is abiding by regulations, blames municipality for sewage on beach
By Simona Sikimic
Daily Star staff
Friday, March 25, 2011

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Environmental activists block pipe they say is pumping toxic waste into sea

HALAT: Environmental activists Thursday blocked an industrial pipe allegedly spewing toxic waste into the sea.

Greenpeace campaigners put a symbolic barrier on the pipe belonging to Lebanese firm Sanita, based in Halat near Jbeil, and affiliated with Union Packaging Corporation (Unipack). They also hung signs reading “So the disaster stays with us” a play on Sanita’s motto “So the beauty stays with us.”

“There is a high possibility [the pipe] is actually leaking toxic matter into the coastal environment,” Greenpeace Mediterranean oceans campaigner Garabed Kazanjian told The Daily Star. “We’re requesting the company to have a full environmental audit so that we understand fully the impact that [polluting] may have on the marine ecosystem.”

Unipack denies the claims and insists that the company has been targeted politically.

Unipack regional general manager Imad Khoury told The Daily Star via telephone that the blocked pipe does not belong to Sanita, which concentrates on sales, but is rather discharge from Unipack’s operations. Both companies are subsidiaries of INDEVCO an international manufacturing group producing paper, plastics, tissue alongside a host of other products.

“All of our waste water is tested monthly to a very high standard to ensure it is not contaminated,” Khoury told said. “The main sewage [on the beach] is from the municipality.”

The contested dumping site was surveyed by the Environment Ministry in April 2010 and Unipack was slapped with an official warning from the ministry in September and given three months to evaluate the damage.

Unipack, however, claims to have received the September notice three days ago and insist the firm is already complying with all its clauses. Unipack contacted Greenpeace and said it intended to reveal the facts about the environmental damage.

It also indicated willingness to expose who was responsible.

The contaminated area has also previously been assessed by scientists from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, who found the presence of heavy metals such as lead, copper and manganese.

Their study also recorded traces of deadly bacteria, including Salmonella, but Unipack attributes this to the municipality, which deals with the disposal of human and animal waste, a prime cause of salmonella.

Halat’s mayor, Charles Bassil, has spearheaded the campaign against the company. “This is not acceptable, there should be a stronger movement against the pollution; we demand implementation of new policies, we should know what pollutants are being dumped in the sea,” he told reporters. “Citizens have a right to live in a clean environment.”

He also blames INDEVCO for running on petroleum-powered electric generators and has pledged to follow up Thursday’s protest with legal action if necessary.

The remnants from a March 12 oil spill, the worst such incident to date, are still visible on the beach. The parties disagree about the nature of the spill, with Unipack blaming a malfunctioning truck for the leak.

“There was a huge toxic oil discharge into the coast,” said Kazanjian. “You see on the rocks there are still huge patches of oil residing there.”

Resident Joseph Rizkallah, who was at the protest, said the problem, which includes industrial smoke, has increased over the last three years. At peak times discharge from the pipe can reach up to 5 kilometers in each direction, hitting Jbeil to the north and Bouar to the south, he said.

“They messed up our beach; it’s where we grew up,” Rizkallah said.

“We don’t want to hurt the company, all our family and friends work here, but we want it to be clean and safe for the residents too,” he added.

Greenpeace presented a list of demands to the packaging manufacturer, demanding that they comply with ministry demands by June 1, 2011. They did not fully block the pipe and warned the company to guard against potential damages.

“[Sanita Unipack] is certainly not the only company doing this and it is not the worst offender,” said Raefah Makki, Greenpeace’s communication officer. “But this is a first step and we are doing this as a warning to others to say that you never know who will be next.” – Additional reporting by Van Meguerditchian