In response to an article by journalist Martin Jay, The Growing Relationship between Cancer Increase in Lebanon and EU Induced Corruption published in International Policy Digest on May 11, 2019
Beirut, 30 May 2019,
Since the outbreak of the crisis in 2015, Lebanon's waste sector has become a highly sensitive subject and is often linked to corruption and malpractice. As the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) fully supports the press and believes in freedom of expression, they believe that the public has the right to investigate, obtain all information and report any complaints, but hope that the cases submitted will be based on concrete evidence and that the reports will be fair and impartial.
On May 11, 2019, a foreign journalist published an article “The Growing Relationship between Lebanon's Cancer Boom and Corruption in the European Union”. This article was in the form of an investigation, alleging that people in northern Lebanon are poisoned by contaminated well water, following a recycling project funded by The European Union, referring to the sorting and composting industry. The Solid Waste Management Project at the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Development runs this industry in the Minya region, which handles 77 tons of waste per day. The article claims that this lab is responsible for the growing numbers of deaths from cancer in northern Lebanon.
In this regard, OMSAR would like to refute the erroneous information provided in the report, many of which are de facto, realistically and scientifically, misleading and exaggerated. The current environmental crisis in the Minieh-Denniyeh area should not be underestimated after the closure of the Adwa landfill (whose negative impacts are described later), but the public must be properly informed of the causes, effects and risks of the crisis.
It is important to note at this stage, that one of the main sources of the author's report, especially the “whistle-blower” referred to in the article, in fact completely denies making statements, which are suspected of corruption in the implementation of the screening and composting industry in Minieh. Mr. Imad Matar, President of the Union of Municipalities of Minieh, has since published statements indicating that the information he has given were fabricated, thus completely undermining the integrity of the information contained in the article.
Date of the sorting and composting facility in Minieh
We must look at the timeline of the Minya facility in details. In 2005, Ziad Abi Shaker, owner of Cedar Environmental, introduced fertilizer drums to the Federation of Minieh Municipalities; this technology was adopted and moved forward. Subsequently, the Union submitted a request for funding from the European Union through the Office of the Secretary of State for Administrative Development (OMSAR), as the contracting authority, and the tender was subsequently put forward for implementation using barrel-fencing technology as detailed in the proposal.
Al Bonyan Company won the tender for the establishment of the facility, and the equipment (including conveyor belts) was supplied to the Manutech firm. The facility was completed in 2013, after which a tender for operation and maintenance was issued by the Union of Municipalities of Minia. The evaluation committee consisted of representatives from the Federation, the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR), and the Ministry of Environment. The contract was awarded for one year to a local company named Sanitek s.a.r.l, which is renewable for a maximum of three years.
During the Sanitek facility management, several attempts were made to operate the barrels for the purpose of treating organic waste, without success. The company stated that the required conditions inside the barrels can’t meet the conditions, especially the temperature and humidity levels required for the composting process. Efforts were made to increase the temperature by blowing hot air into the vessel but to no avail because this has affected the moisture balance and did not simply work.
Sanitek has revealed that the use of this technology is stressful, time-consuming and ineffective and therefore the company has stopped using barrels to produce organic skewers. In 2016, the Federation decided to remove the barrels completely from within the facility as evidenced in Letter 124 of 10/03/2016 at the request of the new operator, Al Jihad for Commerce and Contracting.
Starting in 2006, many supports were provided to the Minya facility by other donor agencies, including UNDP and UNICEF, through which additional equipment were purchased for return to aerobic composting on concrete beds outside the facility, which is a simpler and less expensive system. In order to enhance the two factories to control the conditions of composting, the outside areas were covered to reduce high humidity levels of rain. The construction of this structure obtained through a fund from UKAID and implemented by Mercy Corps in 2018. Three years later, the contract with JCC expired in 2019 and the rebooting process is now underway.
Moreover, over the years of operation of the facility, experts from the waste management team of OMSAR have conducted field inspection visits to monitor operations and ensure compliance with the environmental and technical standards set out in the terms of reference of the contracts in question. All inspection visits were accompanied by reports sent periodically to the union and then to the contractor to take action to improve their operations.
The problem of using the composting technique in barrels
The technique of composting in barrels in present in Lebanon since many years. Several projects were implemented using this technology by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The added benefit of these barrels is to reduce the time of composting. In 2004, MVV Consultants and Engineers issued an evaluation report for “Rural Material Recovery and Composting Facilities in Lebanon”. The assessment addressed 12 different cases, seven of which were submitted by Cedar Environmental between 2000 and 2003. Today, only one of these facilities still works with generating substandard quality plumber. Many of the issues highlighted in the report point to the high cost of operating barrels, and frequent crashes. This is mainly due to electricity supply problems that lead to significant problems in composting (generating high juicer and non-decomposition of substances ") as well as to having" faecal coliforms above EPA standards”. Many establishments also had odour problems and thus closed or resorted to stacking composting.
The role of mechanical and biological treatment and its emissions
Mechanical biological treatment is a process aimed at separating mechanically recyclable materials for reprocessing and achieving biological stability of organic materials in a less harmful state. The OMSAR Waste Management Project uses this model in all of its 12 facilities due to the fact that many of us do not sort waste from the source and all waste is generally mixed together. Composting is based on the biodegradation of biodegradable organic materials by bacteria that grow in the presence of oxygen, resulting in a relatively stable organic material we call organic composting. Soap can then be used as a soil conditioner, but only if it is of good quality and respects certain standards. The quality of the plumber is determined by whatever technology is used, whether by barrel technology or stackable composting technique, mostly, by the quality of the materials put into operation from the beginning. The use of mixed waste for the production of bogs, will not result in a final product that can be ideally used for agriculture, but will significantly reduce the harmful substances of the waste. The OMSAR Solid Waste Program does not promote the use of organic composts from mixed waste for agricultural purposes and leaves it up to the Federation to decide how to use it for other purposes such as landscapes as long as it meets the necessary quality standards set by the Ministry of Environment. The organic stabilization of organic materials has the added advantage that it reduces waste volume by 30% and when disposed, it reduces the level of methane production and waste juice by more than 90%, unlike the disposal of fresh untreated waste. In fact, many countries at the international level require that new wastes be subjected to bio-mechanical treatment as a minimum before landfilling in sanitary landfills in order to minimize environmental emissions (ie, methane and waste juices) to a minimum and increase the life of the landfill.
The problem in the Adwa landfill and water pollution
There is no sanitary landfill in the Federation of Minieh Municipalities where the remaining wastes can be disposed of safely. Adwa is an open, uncontrolled landfill where many towns and villages in the North Governorate have dumped their waste for many years. Its large size and proximity to Nahr el-Bared is undoubtedly causing an environmental disaster in the region, as well as numerous other landfills throughout the country. However, to say that the Minya factory is solely responsible for the high incidence of cancer in the northern region as a result of the marsh it produces and disposes of in the rain, is a relief. The factory tries to minimize the amount of waste left after treatment, as well as the hazardous nature of the waste going to the landfill. The Minister of Environment recently called for the closure of the Adwa landfill. But at what cost? The lack of an alternative waste disposal site means that municipalities are now obliged to find another waste outlet, and most likely in environmentally friendly land for a healthy landfill, in a valley somewhere out of sight. Instead of a central problem, the result would be a larger number of open landfills scattered throughout the region, making any land reform plans a technical and financial nightmare. The closure of waste disposal sites without an alternative reminds us of the 2015 crisis. The plans of the Waste Management Project of the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Development were already under the second phase of its SWAM II project to build and operate a sanitary landfill serving the entire area in the Minieh-Denniyeh area. In fact, the land has already been allocated and until the EIA was completed in 2018. This project has had a significant impact on the population and environmental situation in the region. However, the funds were withdrawn from the EU and the project never materialized.
Water pollution tests
The article describes how the author personally took five independent water samples from wells and examined them at the American University of Beirut laboratory, whose results showed "alarmingly high levels of bacteria" and that the samples looked like "sewage." There are several initial scientific issues that should be highlighted, perhaps the author was not familiar with them when conducting his survey:
- Detection of leachate contamination in groundwater is a complex activity and is not limited to five random sampling. This sample size is not representative and therefore not conclusive. We also cannot make sure that the water samples are collected and transported correctly to the laboratory as this will affect the results.
- There is no precise evidence or confirmation of the locations from which the water samples were taken, for example the proximity to the treatment plant or landfill, the depth of the water well, etc.
- Leachate contamination indicators are not limited only to bacteria and are therefore not scientifically accurate and no conclusions can be reached indicating the presence of leachate contamination. Organic contamination indicators such as (chemical oxygen demand, biological oxygen demand, total organic carbon, etc.) COD, BOD, TOC and inorganic indicators such as boron, iron, ammonia, chloride, sodium and TDS are more reliable parameters for indicating groundwater contamination with waste leachate.
- The Minya area suffers from several sources of pollution, including the discharge of wastewater in the valleys and rivers in the drainage pits, the spread of random dumpsites, as well as the improper discharge of industrial and medical waste, and therefore, the sources of pollution cannot be limited when examining water in a specific place, thus, there is no evidence to confirm that the source of pollution in the entire area comes directly from the waste treatment plant in Minieh.