Poisonous Waste, “Poisoned” Justice By Marlene Sabeh

Poisonous Waste, “Poisoned” Justice

The scandal of toxic waste in Lebanon is unequivocally substantiated. In 1987, experts from Greenpeace Mediterranean compiled and submitted detailed reports of the horrors of this act. At the height of the Civil War, 15,800 barrels of different sizes and 20 containers of toxic waste were illegally exported from Italy and dumped in the foothills of Mount Lebanon near the Mediterranean Coast. There were also various indicators that some of the noxious chemicals lie deep beneath the all-year snow of Mount Sannine and others around the Armenian Bourj Hammoud suburb of Beirut. The barrels were reported to have contained a highly poisonous cocktail of chemicals such as methyl and ethyl acrylate; both used to manufacture plastic.

At the time, a judicial inquiry was set up to find out who encouraged the Italians to dump the chemicals where Lebanon’s tourists were once advised to ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon. It was reported that Lebanese militants covered up the operation, bribed by a share of money paid by an Italian company to Lebanese traders. Lebanese authorities did not take notice of the imported waste because the country was ravaged by a civil war from 1975 until 1990. Upon the break out of the big scandal and the public outcry in 1988, the Italian Government promised to remove the toxic waste but unfortunately, only 5,500 barrels only were loaded onto four ships in Beirut seaport. Approximately 10,000 barrels containing highly flammable liquids were left behind in Lebanon, scattered along the shores, inadequately stored; their vapors leaking through the metal.

What happened after that was a series of highly noxious mishandling of the remaining barrels. the remaining waste was used as fertilizer, pesticide or as so-called “raw material” to produce paints for furniture and polyurethane for the production of foam mattresses. Some factories were quite unhappy with the quality of raw materials and decided to discard it in household dumps, sewers, and valley. In some cases, barrels were emptied and sold to people to store petrol, water or food. Many barrels were burned in open air. Others were dumped in the sea or in the Keserwan mountains east of Beirut. As a consequence, soil in many areas were contaminated, especially in the Shnanir quarry east of Jounieh.

In 1995, Greenpeace and (then) Lebanon’s Minister of Environment Mr. Pierre Pharaon decided to address the issue and devise a plan to decontaminate Lebanon; but the collaboration did not last when the Minister refused to cooperate to publish details about the barrels imported from Italy. Greenpeace asked Mr. Pharaon why the Lebanese government is not officially demanding from Italy to fulfill its 1988 promise and return all the waste. He answered that the European Union, including Italy, is giving Lebanon millions in grants and aid and therefore it would be inappropriate to embarrass Italy with the toxic waste…

According to studies done by Essex University, the discarded chemicals cause neurological and kidney damage and are possible carcinogens.  They contained Nitrocellulose or fulmicoton (a highly explosive substance), polyurethane, cynures, heavy metal cyanides, sand mixed with dioxins, tricofol, herbicides, styrene, chlorure de méthylene, isocyanate de methyle (pesticide), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and chromate de plomb. Several reports over the years confirmed the lethal effect of these chemicals on people: During a sampling operation carried out by Lebanese scientist Dr. Pierre Malychef in 1988, one drop from a barrel containing a mixture of pesticide and defoliant, comprising up to 40 parts per million of dioxin, fell on his neck. Six weeks later it had developed into skin cancer that had to be removed by electrocoagulation.

The toxic waste scandal must be thoroughly and fairly investigated. The judiciary system must re-open the case and determine a serious course of action, by implementing the right consequences to those responsible for this atrocious disgrace. The public has the right to know who contaminated Lebanon’s soil, leaving poisonous chemicals to damage it and endanger its population for years…

At the time when the toxic chemicals were dumped, a war was devastating the country, deterring all attention away from suspected cover-ups; but now, justice can and must be served.



Waste Trade in the Mediterranean-Toxic Attack Against Lebanon, Fouad Hamdan, August 1996.

Militias Leave Behind ‘Ecological Time-Bomb’ From Italy, Robert Fisk, The Independent, June 1995.

Pictures of the toxic waste:

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