Lebanon toxic water causing public health risk, UN says

Image copyright Muhammad Umrani Image caption The boat remains moored close to the oil tanker which had sunk in February The continued use of contaminated water supplies in Lebanon is causing a public health…

Lebanon toxic water causing public health risk, UN says

Image copyright Muhammad Umrani Image caption The boat remains moored close to the oil tanker which had sunk in February

The continued use of contaminated water supplies in Lebanon is causing a public health risk, United Nations health agencies say.

Although World Health Organisation water quality tests found no risk to public health, they warned further contamination of waste water could lead to an emergency.

The World Health Organization team observed persistent discolouration of “lead-damaged” water in several areas.

The government says more than 80% of water is safe.

The team said that the atmosphere within the oil tanker Smaad Mariah was known to contain traces of poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), or to be contaminated with PCBs.

PCBs can cause health problems including reproductive disorders and developmental issues in children.

The team of UN officials who were recently in Lebanon also monitored clean-up operations, discovering that the oil and fuel that had leaked into Lebanon’s coastline remained in landfills – meaning it could also provide a source of pollution.

“The pollution is being poorly controlled, and another potentially hazardous event is taking place,” says a report from the health teams.

They warned of the risks of waterborne contamination because most Lebanese and Syrian families lack the means to properly disinfect their water supply.

Unused reservoirs

The team also found that in eight out of 12 areas where they gathered water samples they found that unpolluted water was being used to provide drinking water for residents.

“As many as 39% of the reservoirs were at least partially empty,” says the report.

“Among them, we observed that at least five contained deteriorating solid fuel, which is carcinogenic or could cause cancer.”

The UN team found elevated levels of disinfection by-products at ten sites.

The government has told the UN that such substances are safe when used as a disinfectant.

Lebanon has 20 million cubic metres of water that are not fully treated, according to the UN.

In June this year, contaminated water came close to mass poisoning in eastern Lebanon. A chemicals plant was ordered to stop using contaminated water and a nearby fuel station was shut.

Vitamins and pharmaceuticals were also found to be poorly disinfected.

Clean-up efforts to reduce the risks of the spill are continuing.

International scientific and technological support is being given to aid the work.

The Villeroy & Boch company, who are working on cleaning up the spill, said in August that “the tanks had been covered with plastic sheeting”.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Clean-up efforts are ongoing

“From the sea, they will collect bacteria, metal particles, volatile organic compounds, and oil deposits,” said Mr Hazi, the general manager of the firm.

He also added that it was hoped the tanks would be cleaned and re-used after 50 years.

“The solution that the government has provided to me is fantastic,” he said.

Diverts the water

The UN team discovered that a UN-funded clean-up project in Bannaish and nearby Damascus areas had been diverted from its original mission to secure the area.

“From where the areas of Tishrin Dam and Blikka were, the Villeroy & Boch employees were diverted to Tishrin Dam and the jobs of government employees were done instead, without clearance,” the report said.

The marine area that was deemed contaminated was only a trickle by the time it was contacted by the team. It has been further damaged by recent attacks in the area.

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