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Bombing in Lebanon Creates Environmental Disaster, Threatens Mediterranean

By July 30, 2006

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Israel’s bombing of a Beirut power plant has spilled thousands of tons of heavy fuel oil into the sea and onto beaches, and has sent a cloud of toxic fumes into the air, creating what Lebanese officials are calling the worst environmental disaster in Mediterranean history.

Israel bombed the oil tanks at the power station on July 14 and July 15. One tank spilled as much as 15,000 tons of oil and, according to some estimates, at least 10,000 tons reached the sea and has been pushed along the coast by the wind.

Another tank, estimated to contain as much as 25,000 tons of oil, is still burning and in danger of exploding. Lebanon lacks the chemical foam and other resources to put out the fire, because most have been used to extinguish other fires at the Beirut airport and oil fields.

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The spilled oil has killed fish and coated birds and marine life along 50 miles of the Lebanese coast, threatening some species with extinction, and the cloud of pollution from the fire is a growing danger to children, senior citizens and people with respiratory ailments. Both problems pose threats to other countries such as Turkey, Greece, Syria, and even Israel.

Because of the Israeli blockade, Lebanon cannot send ships to clean up the oil, so officials have appealed to the United States, Britain, Italy, Spain and other countries for help. Even if the ships could get through, Lebanon doesn’t have the expertise or equipment to clean up a major oil spill.

Environment Minister Yacoub al-Sarraf told Reuters, "The equipment we have is for minor spills. We use it once in a blue moon to clean a small spill of 50 tons or so. To clean this whole thing up we would need an armada."

According to some reports, private companies and the Kuwaiti government are assisting Lebanon with the spill, but the work is extremely dangerous as Israel continues its attack.

Berge Hadjian, director general of the Environment Ministry in Lebanon, told The Boston Globe that cleaning up the oil spill would take $150 million and at least six months to a year.

For more Middle East coverage, see About World News and About U.S. Politics: Current Events.

More information:

Lebanon oil spill ‘worst disaster for environment in the region’ Mumbai Mirror

Oil Spill Adds Ecological Crisis to Lebanon's Agony Planet Ark/Reuters

Fuel oil and fumes spill from power plant bombed by Israelis The Boston Globe

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