May 15, 2014 12:19 AM
By Justin Salhani
JIYYEH, Lebanon: The sea surrounding a coastal power plant in Lebanon is being polluted, according to a statement issued by the Professional Divers Union.

The statement, released by union head Mohammad Sarji Tuesday, said a recent surge in pollution had come from the Jiyyeh power plant, south of Beirut, and accused those behind it of being “careless and irresponsible” about cleaning the plant’s machinery and smoke pipes and allowing the runoff to enter the sea.

Locals said large sections of the sea had been covered in an unidentified black substance, initially thought to be an oil spill, last Sunday.

“The sea and the shore were all covered in black,” said Malaz al-Ali, 30, an employee at a local cement factory, while he stood on the litter-strewn Jiyyeh beach. He added that the waves had washed the sea and shore clean since Sunday.

Locals interviewed near the power plant Wednesday said they first noticed the pollution Sunday, likening it to oil spills that once frequently plagued the coast in the area.

“It was the first time since the July 2006 War,” said Mohammad Eido, an employee at the Mina Beach resort located next to the Jiyyeh plant.

Israeli strikes on the Jiyyeh power plant during the summer war against Lebanon resulted in an oil spill along parts of the Lebanese coast, damaging the seafront for swimmers, fishermen and aquatic wildlife.

Sarji said the electricity company regularly uses high-pressure water hoses “to flush all residues from pipes and machinery” but that the amount of pollution in the sea Sunday was the largest to date.

“It was catastrophic,” Sarji told The Daily Star. “The river of pollution spread from Jiyyeh to Sidon.”

Local media also reported similar accounts near a power plant in Zouk, north of the capital.

Neither the Environment Ministry nor Energy Ministry responded to requests for comment.

Sarji called for an investigation to be started immediately in order to ensure those guilty of pollution are held to account.

“They are careless and irresponsible,” he said.

“This is not acceptable at all. We consider this to be a criminal act.”

Jiyyeh’s beaches are widely regarded as some of the most pristine swimming spots in Lebanon, despite the close proximity to the polluting power plant. The public beach, however, is littered with broken glass, pieces of plastic, plastic bags and other garbage, tarnishing the view of the coast.

Four teenage boys, still drying themselves off from a swim in the sea, pointed at rubbish floating in the water they had just emerged from Wednesday.

“Look at the water,” said one of them, pointing at a pile of floating waste. “It’s not clean.”

The boys said much of the sea had been blackened just days earlier but that the small cove they frequented remained free of the pollution.

But just because the youngsters were unable to see the pollution, it does not mean that it is not there.

“It mixes with seawater,” said Sarji, adding that it also “enters fish, and when we eat polluted fish it enters our body.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 15, 2014, on page 4.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::