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Take a deep breath before you go to Karantina and don’t let it out before you clear the area by quite some distance. Bones, urine, blood, feathers, cow guts … all come together to infuse Beirut’s slaughterhouse and its surroundings with a truly repulsive odor.
The Karantina slaughterhouse started its operations in 1993. The facility never acquired a composter but settled for the policy of channeling all of its waste, solid and liquid, straight into the sea.
Ziad Abi Chaker, a biological resources engineer, told The Daily Star that his company, Cedar Environmental, worked on a deal with Beirut’s municipality in 2001 for the handling of the slaughterhouse’s solid and liquid waste.
The company offered to build the composter for no fee, in exchange for a monthly revenue from the municipality.
But “as of today, no official agreement has been reached,” Abi Chaker said.
Although the slaughterhouse is clearly damaging the environment and polluting the sea, Beirut’s municipality has yet to take any real action in the face of the problem, despite the enthusiasm of both Beirut’s mayor and its governor for the project, Abi Chaker added.
The Environment Ministry’s director-general, Berj Hadjian, told The Daily Star that Beirut’s slaughterhouse is one of many environmental problems the capital is suffering from.
He went on to say that “private food production companies, such as Tanmia, have succeeded in tackling animals’ liquid and solid waste by bringing the latest composting equipment … and if private companies are capable of managing their waste, then why is it that governmental institutions and municipalities are still not ready to solve their issues?”
Abi Chaker’s firm said it has proven that it can manage Beirut’s slaughterhouse.
“Last year, we took samples from the slaughterhouse’s waste and treated it for three days before sending the treated end product to the laboratories of the American University of Beirut. The test confirmed the efficiency of our machines in handling the waste and converting it to a by-product that can be used in the agricultural sector. Although we have succeeded in accomplishing such results, we are still waiting for final approval,” he said.
Beirut’s slaughterhouse provides some 20 percent of the capital’s demand for meat, whereas the remaining 80 percent is imported frozen and already processed.
Abi Chaker, recipient of the Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environmental Award in 2001, said in the absence of a composter, three types of waste are generated by a slaughterhouse “liquid waste, such as blood, urine and polluted washwater, the cattle’s digestive system, and the bones which really present the most serious problem because of their size and their decomposing qualities.”
If Beirut’s slaughterhouse were to use a rotary drum composter, it could treat and convert all its waste into soil fortifiers for use in agriculture. But the preferred method has been to send it straight out to sea.
As for the bones, “they used to be buried, but when they ran out of space at the slaughterhouse, the employees started burning them,” said Abi Chaker.
A Karantina merchant who wished to remain anonymous told The Daily Star that unpleasant smells emanate from the burning of bones and skins, an activity undertaken by the slaughterhouse and endured by the surrounding community twice a week.
Hadjian said burning bones pollute the air and the activity is thus against the environmental law quite apart from being an unacceptable smell for a busy part of Beirut.
The merchant said the odor was stronger last year because two slaughterhouses were located in the area. “Last summer, a group of store owners got together and presented a statement demanding the closure of the slaughterhouses to the Environment Ministry,” he said.
But only one slaughterhouse was closed “I guess because it was private,” he added. The second slaughterhouse did not shut down “because it is owned by the Beirut municipality and the proof is in the air.”
The problem is damaging business “as no one can put up with the unpleasant smell for more than a couple of minutes, and who in his right mind wants to purchase or shop in such an environment?” said Hadjian.
The smell does not travel as far in winter, but with the wind blowing from the sea, it can reach Dikwaneh, Dora and Bourj Hammoud, he added.
Marie-Madelaine Shakhtoura, a resident in Dikwaneh, complained to The Daily Star that after 11pm the smell begins to emanate, “making it hard for us to sleep.”
According to Hadjian, the Bourj Hammoud municipality has already in the past presented the Beirut municipality with a complaint about the problem.
But smell is not the only issue. One Karantina merchant said the slaughterhouse is also polluting the Beirut River, where cow bones and skins are being thrown into it.
When The Daily Star visited the river, it found cow bones and blood as well as vegetables and fruits floating on the surface.
“The river is a dump now and is running dry because of the large amounts of garbage dumped into it,” the merchant said, adding that in winter, the river flooded because it could not accommodate heavy rainfall together with the garbage.
“The water ended up entering my shop, and we had to remove all the merchandise,” he said. According to another merchant who also wished to remain anonymous, all the shops in the area are operating on a temporary license because the municipality intends to widen the road in the future.
When The Daily Star approached Greenpeace campaigner in Lebanon Wael Hmaidan, he said the slaughterhouse in Karantina is polluting the sea because of the high level of organic materials in the water resulting from the pitching of animal bones and blood straight into the sea.
Hmaidan said the increase in the water’s organic content has caused a decrease in the level of oxygen, and is therefore “suffocating marine life.”
Abi Chaker said an additional slaughterhouse was built in Beirut, but had to shut during the civil war. “The municipality estimates that three years are needed to refurbish the slaughterhouse, whereas the slaughterhouse’s ‘inner circle’ says it will need some seven to 10 years due to a lack of funds,” he said.
“Many butchers do not use the slaughterhouse, nor sell imported meat but prefer to slaughter just outside their shops,” Abi Chaker said, adding that the absence of a composter forces them also to throw their waste in the Sukleen dumpsters, which only adds to the environmental catastrophe.
The Daily Star in 2001 investigated the slaughterhouses in Karantina and wrote two substantial pieces on the dilemma, covering the environmental and human impact resulting from the untreated waste generated by the slaughterhouses. Two years later, we still have to take a deep breath and hold it. The only difference is, now we have to hold it longer.