SIDON, Lebanon: From the way officials in charge of clearing a notorious landfill in Sidon talk about the task ahead of them, the operation sounds like a sick man undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. The landfill, which contains some 2 million cubic meters of waste, was known to cave in during the wet winter months, channeling garbage into the sea and the city’s beaches.
The area also caught on fire several times last year, prompting the municipality to make the long-awaited decision of doing away with the landfill for good.
The dump site covers an area of 60,000 square meters and until recently received about 300 tons of solid waste per day, prompting environmental experts to accuse it of emitting harmful and toxic gases.
Last September, for instance, a fire at the site raged for two days, defying the efforts of firefighters to put it out and covering the city with a layer of ashen smoke.
Officials said that clearing the landfill would be a difficult process, and that the site would continue to be harmful until completely emptied, a process estimated to take another two years.
However, a source well-acquainted with the project said there were campaigns against the clearing process that were “politically motivated, and not entirely pushed by proclaimed concerns for the environment and health” but were targeting the political affiliations of the cleaning companies.
For instance, the source said Jihad al-Arab, the head of the local company contracted to clear the landfill – Jalkh Construction and Consulting – was close to the Hariri family, an affiliation that has fueled a hostile campaign against their cleaning work.
However, the source said such tactics would not hinder the clearing process, as the Environment Ministry had already signed a joint contract with French company SWAYS and JCC to get the job done under the supervision of the U.N. Development Program.
Vast quantities of cleanup equipment were transported in vehicles to the dump site over the weekend, with more set to be imported in the future.
Sidon Mayor Mohammad Saudi said efforts to clean the landfill would entail three stages. The first would require installing collection and control systems to eradicate the harmful gases emanating from the landfill, the second would sort organic material from rubble, and the last stage would treat the organic matter with anaerobic fermentation to produce energy.
The leftover rubble will be used to construct a breakwater, creating a barrier between the dump site and the new Abu Rouh Port, according to Saudi.
The cost of dismantling the landfill will be about $25,000,000, spread over 30 months.
“Within 10 days the treatment process will be in the sorting plant which will be erected beside the dump site,” said Hani Francis, the engineer overseeing the cleanup operation.
He said the necessary equipment was currently being installed and prepared, and included automatic sieves, pipes to take in and convert the gases, and other laboratory tools to examine samples taken from the site and determine which organic materials should be discarded and which ones should be treated.
He said the specialized equipment to erect the fermentation laboratory, which would be established next to the dump site, was also on its way.
Describing how the harmful gases would be extracted from the site, Francis said: “The process begins with the suction of the methane gas from the dump, screening the components of the waste and then sorting them.”
Landfill gas is mostly made up of methane and carbon dioxide, but can also contain nitrogen, oxygen gas, water vapor, hydrogen sulphide and other contaminants. Because landfill gas reproduces itself, pressure builds within the mounds of waste and forces these gases into the atmosphere, often leading to environmental and sanitation problems in surrounding areas.
Francis said the fires which have erupted from the landfill were caused mainly by gases created by the accumulated waste.
Responding to accusations that the company has dumped waste into the sea, Francis said the company worked in line with proper standards and guidelines. “We work in line with standards and regulations ... We rely on studies to do our work under the supervision of specialized engineers, consultants and the municipality,” he said.
“We can’t dump the waste into the sea. If we wanted to do that we would not have purchased over 200 trucks to transport soil and rubble to the treatment lab.”
He ruled out the possibility that the treatment process would face difficulties during the winter months, when vast quantities of rain tend to cause the piles of waste to cave in and wash into the sea. The breakwater between the site and the port would prevent high tides from reaching the dump, he added.