UN to help pinpoint Lebanon's pollution hot spots

Posted: 2 October 2006

The full scale of pollution and environmental damage caused by the recent conflict in Lebanon, will be investigated by an international team of experts who begin work tomorrow.

The team, led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), working the Lebanese authorities, will visit and sample sites thought to present potential risks to human health, wildlife and the wider environment.

These include the Jiyyeh thermal power plant 28km south of Beirut which discharged 10,000 to 30,000 tonnes of fuel oil into the Mediterranean after being hit in mid July; Beirut International Airport, where fuel tanks were set alight by bombing; and the Maliban glass factory in the Bekaa Valley destroyed by an air raid on 19 July.

Other sites expected to be assessed include some of the estimated 22 country-wide petrol stationsthat were damaged or destroyed and locations where there is thought to be unexploded ordnance.

The team also plans to assess pollution risks at several damaged drinking water, sewage treatment and hospital facility sites.

Damaged power transformers, collapsed buildings and ruptured oil lines that may have leaked or discharged hazardous substances andmaterials-such as asbestos and chlorinated compounds - are also earmarked.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said: "There is an urgent need to assess the environmental legacy of the recent conflict and put in place a comprehensive clean-upof polluted and health-hazardous sites".

"Work is on-going to deal with the oil spill on the Lebanese coast. We must now look at the wider impacts as they relate to issues such asunderground and surface water supplies, coastal contamination and the health and fertility of the land," he said.

He said UNEP was responding to a request by Lebanon to help guide international reconstruction efforts. Mr Steiner said he expects to have a comprehensive report on sites and locations in need of decontamination and clean up before the end of the year.

"Once the hard facts are known and the hot spots pin pointed, I would urge the international community to back the findings as part of thereconstruction effort for Lebanon and its people," he added.

Source> UNEP, 2nd October 2006