February 18, 2012 02:09 AM
By Van Meguerditchian
The Daily Star
The waterway of Nahr Beirut turned red after a sewage pipe expelled an unidentifiable stream of effluvium into it, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
The waterway of Nahr Beirut turned red after a sewage pipe expelled an unidentifiable stream of effluvium into it, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Two days after the Beirut River mysteriously turned red, experts warned Friday that the waterway is in danger, not only from illegal sewage dumping, but from industrial waste which could have long-term effects on city residents and marine life.

Experts and security officials are still trying to identify the exact source and the nature of the substance that turned the Beirut River blood red, although preliminary investigations point to a dye being the culprit.

While the contamination lasted more than than 24 hours, government and local officials were unable to locate its source, leaving the red substance to mix with the river water and then flow into the Mediterranean Sea.

According to a security source, the investigation into the incident will be challenging and it will be difficult to locate the exact source of the dumping. “The red dye was probably dumped by a leather-producing factory,” the source told The Daily Star.

Once part of an urban development project, the Beirut River has increasingly become an empty route for waste and sewage dumping following years of neglect by officials.

During the summer season, one can see only a few inches of dense liquid, filled with sewage, being emptied into the two banks of the river. But when the rainy season arrives every year, some factories take advantage of the running water to get rid of their yearly industrial waste, said one official from the American University of Beirut’s Environmental Health Department.

“Industries await the winter season to discharge their industrial residues so that they run unnoticed into the Mediterranean,” said Mey Jurdi, professor and chairwoman at AUB’s Environmental Health Department.

Jurdi argues that based on the density of the liquid that was seen in the river, it is clear that the waste has not undergone any treatment. “Its contamination might be high and it could have disastrous consequences to the environment surrounding it,” said Jurdi.

She said that every industry should have an onsite treatment of its waste products before disposing of them.

Although the Beirut Prosecutor assigned the Internal Security Forces to carry out an investigation into the incident which took place earlier this week, the government’s effort to locate the polluter may have taken too long.

A day after the river turned red, officials were still searching for an official laboratory to examine a sample of the liquid to test whether it contained blood, or an industrial dye.

However, it appears there are no state-owned laboratories capable of carrying out such tests. The last government laboratory, in the Beirut suburbs and which was poorly equipped, was closed down several years ago. The Environment Ministry Thursday referred the samples to laboratories at AUB for further examination.

Industry Minister Vrej Sabounjian said the ministry will take strict measures against the party responsible for releasing the substance into the river. “There are guidelines and conditions for all registered industries in the country to abide by … A failure to respect these conditions will not be tolerated,” Sabounjian said.

According to Sabounjian, industries have several ways to get rid of annual waste. “It appears that there was either a leakage from some factory or an intentional discharging of waste that they might have considered affordable and cheaper than the other ways of getting rid of waste,” he said. “But that causes significant harm to the environment … it’s environmentally unacceptable.”

Raymond Semaan, the mayor of Furn al-Shebbak said it is time to have an environmental prosecution office in the country. “Lebanese don’t care about the environment, they give no value to it,” said Semaan, who earlier this week urged the Beirut Governor to launch a campaign to protect the city’s river and the people living around it.

Semaan said the canal leading to the sewage pipe from which the colored water poured gets blocked every several months. “We are fortunate that it got blocked at the time when the factory was emptying its waste into the sea … they usually empty it straight into the sea,” he said, adding that the incident at the Beirut River exposed “the biggest environmental crime.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 18, 2012, on page 4.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2012/Feb-18/163747-damage-from-red-river-could-be-long-felt.ashx#ixzz1mw6oJVfl
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)