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Invisible threat: pollutants in the country's ground water.

Byline: Nathanael Massey

Summary: A landscape of garbage piles is seldom a pretty site. Dumps - particularly open dumps - are an eye-sore, necessitating that they be removed as far as possible from the public. But the most troubling aspect of dumps - and of landfills as well - may be an invisible one.AaAccording to a report released in 2007 by the MORES agency, under the Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance program.

A landscape of garbage piles is seldom a pretty site. Dumps -- particularly open dumps -- are an eye-sore, necessitating that they be removed as far as possible from the public. But the most troubling aspect of dumps -- and of landfills as well -- may be an invisible one.AaAccording to a report released in 2007 by the MORES agency, under the Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance program, the two most prominent sources of pollution to Leba-non's ground water are solid waste and waste water.Aa

Waste water, which can be any water discharged from households or industrial sites, is usually contaminated with biological components and therefore poses a risk of bacterial contamination.Aa

Water that has been filtered through solid waste -- rain water, for example, that has passed through the layers of garbage at a dump site -- poses an even more serious threat.Aa

Technically, this water is called "leachate." In passing through solid-waste matter, the leachate picks up harmful substances, mainly heavy metals like mercury.Aa

The leachate continues its path into the earth, and can contaminate ground water reservoirs used by the agricultural sector.Aa

"Lebanon is irrigating some of its agricultural plains using waters contaminated by leachate generated from open dumps," reads the MORES report. Following a cyclical path, that water then makes its way into the crops that are consumed by the public.Aa

It can also be picked up by cattle and other livestock grazing on contaminated fields, making its way into dairy products and meat.Aa

In other instances, solid waste enters waterways directly. In Lebanon, each Municipality is responsible for the handling of its own solid waste. Dr. Ali Darwish, secretary general of the NGO Greenline, told The Daily Star that with scant resources at their disposal, the municipalities tend to dump waste wherever is most immediately convenient: often in easily accessible areas such as riverbanks, or the Mediterranean itself, for costal cities.Aa

Heavy metals, such as zinc, lead and iron, enter our bodies in trace elements and are not harmful in very small doses. The danger to human health arises through repeat exposure because metals do not break down, and will accumulate in a human body over time.Aa

Too much of an accumulated metal can cause a disturbing array of health problems, from nerve damage to sight loss and several forms of cancer.Aa

Another major threat to Lebanon's water supplies -- and the ecological systems they support -- is agricultural waste, primarily synthetic pesticides.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Nov 2, 2009
Words:494
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