Shipments of Tainted Meat, Toxic Waste Threaten War-Weary Lebanese
The Lebanese, bruised by 13 years of civil war, are jumpy over a new threat--shipments of toxic waste and contaminated meat imported by people the media calls “Merchants of Death.”
In the last few weeks, merchants have imported 2,400 tons of chemical wastes from Italy, 23 tons of spoiled frozen meat from Europe and hundreds of tons of spoiled tobacco from Greece.
In addition, about 40 barrels inscribed “Cairo Oil” and containing suspicious-looking pink and gold powder were discovered in the Mediterranean off the coast of Tyre in southern Lebanon and Tabarjah in the north.
It was not clear where the barrels came from.
The discovery of the mystery barrels sent shock waves through much of seaside Lebanon, prompting residents to desert beaches and forgo seafood.
Health Ministry sources said 72 people contracted skin ailments after swimming in the sea.
An Italian toxic waste expert, Umberto Fortunato, met with Health Minister Joseph Hashem to discuss the 2,400 tons of toxic wastes sent from Italy.
Afterward, Hashem told reporters the waste was not radioactive but was poisonous and harmful to humans. He said the chemicals had been shipped to Lebanon early in June.
Hashem said an agreement was reached with the Italian expert to gather the waste and ship it to an incinerator in the Pacific Ocean. Italy will help pay for the operation, he said.
The case is one of several in the last few weeks in which European firms contracted to get rid of toxic wastes and shipped them to Africa or the Middle East. Nigeria accused an Italian firm of dumping toxic chemicals on its beaches, and a Norwegian firm was forced to reclaim waste from the United States that it sent to Guinea in West Africa.
In Lebanon, efforts by the Christian Lebanese Forces militia to return the chemical waste to Italy failed. The Italians told them that moving the waste is risky without prior examination by an expert.
Some of the waste was dumped in the Kesrouan coastal strip in the Christian-controlled heartland, about 20 miles north of the capital. The rest, according to unconfirmed press reports, was buried in the same region.
The chemicals found their way to Lebanon through a local importer, Roger Haddad, who is being interrogated by Lebanese officials. Haddad is the head of maritime operations in a shipping company based in Christian East Beirut.
The barrels of “Cairo Oil” triggered a strong reaction among the thousands of swimmers along the Lebanese coast.
Beaches, usually packed on Sunday, were all but deserted on a recent weekend.
“People did not even dip a finger in the sea but rather swam in the overcrowded pools,” said Mona Chahin, a swimmer at the posh Coral Beach Hotel in Muslim West Beirut.
Another health threat to the Lebanese is the shipment of spoiled meat confiscated by the Ministry of Health. It was imported by Antoine Khoury, who was arrested by Lebanese police but later freed for lack of evidence.
People are worried that part of it has reached local merchants and have stopped ordering meat in restaurants. Supermarkets are advertising in local newspapers that the meat they are selling is fresh and not radioactive.
The meat, refused entry into Jordan in late May, arrived in Lebanon in early June. Jordan has not said why the meat was refused.
As for the shipment of spoiled tobacco, Hashem said it did not contain any radioactive or poisonous substance. But it contained 500 tons of nicotine and was stored in unsecured buildings in the Lebanese mountains.