EnvironmentJun 04, 2021
The Government Monitor No. 19 - Hazardous Waste from the Beirut Port Explosion
WHAT’S THE ISSUE AT HAND?
The 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion left large quantities of construction and demolition waste (CDW), some of which was contaminated with asbestos, in addition to hazardous chemical waste that was mainly found at the port. This resulting waste constitutes an environmental and public health hazard and needs to be managed appropriately.
A month after the explosion, on September 14, the Parliamentary Environment Committee (PEC) held a meeting to discuss the environmental consequences of the explosion and the September 10 port fires (Lebanese Parliament, 2020). The committee concluded with a set of recommendations, including the need to:
Establish a unit specialized in health, safety, and environment at the port and the relevant government entities.
Take samples and conduct urgent testing on the soil and groundwater.
Coordinate efforts and studies among the specialized units in the relevant ministries.
Require a safety datasheet for all materials to be imported or exported.
Inspect all public and private institutions to ensure the implementation of safety measures (including, power plants, oil and gas installations, ports, international airport, and large factories, among others).
Include stringent safety and risk management provisions in operation and maintenance contracts.
Propose a risk management law and enforce compliance in all public and private institutions.
Develop a risk management master’s program and courses to be included in university programs.In November 2020, the Lebanese government, through the Port Authority, signed a contract with the German company Combi Lift to manage and ship the hazardous chemicals present at the port (The National News MENA Lebanon, 2021). The value of the contract amounted to 3.6 million USD for the shipping of 49 (20ft) containers, whereby the Port Authority would pay 2 million USD and Combi Lift would bear the rest of the cost (AFP, 2021).
Combi Lift completed its work by early March 2021, but the departure of the shipment was delayed because of payment issues (The National News MENA Lebanon, 2021). The company found more hazardous materials than anticipated. It cleared 72 containers of waste in total, 59 of which were exported on 5 May 2021 to be incinerated in three facilities in Germany in accordance with the Basel Convention, and 13 were left to be treated in Lebanon. According to Combi Lift CEO Heiko Felderhoff, the company treated the extra chemicals free of charge, although the additional cost is estimated at 2 million USD (The National News MENA Lebanon, 2021).
As for the CDW, piles from outside the port were stored in a lot allocated by the Municipality of Beirut in Karantina area, while the waste from the port is still in place awaiting a management plan from the government. Some of the piles were found to be contaminated with asbestos. The PEC met 8 months after its 2020 meeting, on 22 and 29 of April 2021, to discuss the status of the CDW and how it can be managed in an environmentally sound manner.
The committee called on the Ministry of Environment to follow up on these matters, and asked the Governor of Beirut and the Port Authority if they had contacted the ministries of public health and labor for guidelines on the proper handling of asbestos-contaminated waste. The meetings did not lead to any concrete action in the management of the CDW. The parliamentary committee also raised questions about the ownership of the hazardous chemical waste that was packed by Combi Lift, how these chemicals entered the country, why they were stored at the port, why a direct contract was signed for their management without a bidding process, and why the government had to pay for their disposal (Lebanese Parliament, 2021).
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
The lack of enforcement of health, safety, and environmental measures led to the Beirut port explosion and the subsequent fires, causing environmental pollution and affecting public health and the economy. The incident proved the inadequacy of risk and disaster management in the country and the need for better prevention and response measures to be instituted.
The Beirut port explosion left large quantities of hazardous chemicals and CDW contaminated with asbestos without proper management, posing environmental and public health risks to the surrounding community.
On the 4 August 2020, around 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut exploded, causing more than 200 deaths and 6,000 injuries and leaving 300,000 people homeless. The explosion caused widespread damage at the port and the surrounding area, within a radius of 2 to 5 kilometers (UNDP, 2020). The United Nations Development Program estimated the amount of CDW outside the port to be between 800,000 and 1,000,000 tons, glass waste around 20,000 tons, and disaster waste around 200,000 tons (UNDP, 2020). A European Union report noted that asbestos from roofing material is spread all over the port site and is present in the large CDW piles there, in addition to 49 containers containing chemicals and hazardous materials in poor storage conditions, which pose a threat to human health and the environment (EU, LDK, 2020).
AFP. (2021, 02 06). German firm to clear Beirut port of dangerous containers. Beirut, Lebanon.
Basel Convention. (n.d.). Bas. Retrieved May 26, 2021EU, LDK. (2020, October). Beirut Explosion: Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste Management Plan. Inception Phase - Implementation Plan. Beirut, Lebanon.
King, D. (2021, February 26). Asbestos. Retrieved from Asbestos.com
Lebanese Parliament. (2020, September 14). Environment Committee. Retrieved from Lebanese Parliament.
Lebanese Parliament. (2021, May 06). Environment Committee. Retrieved from Lebanese Parliament.
The National News MENA Lebanon. (2021, May 7). Costs soar for German company in Beirut port clean-up. Beirut, Lebanon.
United Nations Development Program. (2020, October). Demolition Waste Assessment Outside the Port of Beirut. Beirut, Lebanon.
United Nations Environment Program. (n.d.). Overview. Retrieved May 20, 2021, from Basel Convention
World Health Organiation. (2014). Asbestos. Retrieved from WHO
 Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of fibers that can cause, through inhalation, lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs) (World Health Organization, 2014).
 The Basel Convention on the “Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal” is a multilateral agreement that was adopted on 22 March 1989 to protect human health and the environment (United Nations Enviornment Program, n.d.), by reducing the movement of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically from developed to less developed countries (Basel Convention, n.d.). Lebanon ratified this convention by Law 387/1994.