Since the first day after the Beirut explosion, a large number of citizens and civil society groups rushed to help remove rubble from the streets, in the absence of an organized process that takes into account the presence of dangerous materials and the risk of buildings collapse.
“Removing the debris needs an emergency plan to determine the methods of collection, transportation and storage,” according to Dr. Amani Maalouf, an expert in environmental engineering and waste management.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Maalouf said: “It is necessary to remark that until this moment, there is no accurate information about the chemicals that accompanied the explosion, or those found in the rubble of apartments and buildings, or even materials that mixed with water or air.”
“Therefore, it is difficult to define the risks,” she warned, pointing to the possible presence of hazardous materials in the rubble, such as Asbestos, a fiber material that causes lung cancer that was used in isolation and construction. While its import and production stopped long time ago, it might have been used to build old houses that now collapsed, according to Maalouf.
Greenpeace MENA Programs Director Julian Jreissati, for his part, stressed that the rubble removal at the afflicted Mar Mikhael area must stop immediately, describing the activities as “irresponsible.”
“How can the Beirut municipality do this work, which can generate a lot of dust and may contain toxic substances that endanger the health of individuals in the neighborhood?” He asked.
In addition to the Asbestos, Maalouf talked about the presence of heavy metals “such as lead, mercury, adhesives and paint materials, as well as medical and petroleum waste due to damage that hit a number of health centers and fuel tanks.”
While she stressed that the presence of each of these materials separately in the rubble posed a danger to health and the environment, Maalouf warned that the greatest threat “lies in collecting all these materials and storing them together near the destroyed houses, which are still without windows.”
It is crucial to sort the waste within an organized process, she emphasized.