BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Beirut River mysteriously runs blood red

Authorities have yet to determine the source of the substance causing the red color.

BEIRUT: The Beirut River mysteriously turned blood red Wednesday after a stream of unidentified red liquid began pouring from the southern bank of the river in Furn al-Shubbak. The source of the liquid had yet to be determined Wednesday evening, as the river continued to empty the red-colored water into the Mediterranean Sea.

Government and local officials rushed to the scene at the Chevrolet crossing of Furn al-Shubbak Wednesday morning in an attempt to locate the sewage canal that was dumping the red-colored water but they were unable to locate the source. Accusations were traded among officials from the municipalities of Hadath, Hazmieh, Sin al-Fil, Furn al-Shubbak and Shiyah.

Eyewitnesses working in the area told The Daily Star this was not the first time the river had turned a different color. Several business owners around the Chevrolet crossing said that colored water pours into the river roughly every two months but no one pays attention to it.It was the quantity and brightness of the red liquid that grabbed the attention of many passersby and commuters on different bridges in the city Wednesday.

Environment Minister Nazem Khoury said the source of the water was likely from Hazmieh or Baabda.

“I call on the municipalities of Hazmieh and Baabda to cooperate swiftly to find the source of the pollution and its type,” Khoury said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Khoury sent an environmental team to the area to examine the water. The team, headed by ministry official Bassam Sabbagh, took a sample of the water to determine its composition and whether it contained dangerous pollutants.

The samples will be examined Thursday because state laboratories were already closed by the time the sample was taken. “The sample we took will be examined tomorrow [Thursday] morning ... and we will know whether it is blood being mixed with water or if it is some sort of a color dumped in it,” said Sabbagh.

A similar incident took place in the Chinese Jian River last December after a factory illegally dumped red dye into the river, which is located in the northern Chinese province of Henan.

Some cities use non-toxic dyes to color rivers on special occasions. In Chicago, the river is dyed green every year in the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

According to Sabbagh, test results will help the ministry determine whether the substance is a chemical pollutant or blood from a nearby slaughterhouse.

“First we thought it was blood, but it seems like it is a kind of coloring dumped by a factory,” said Sabbagh, who also said that the test to determine the type of the chemical would take a week.

Sabbagh said the municipality and other ministries should help the Environment Ministry in its investigation. “We need the help of the local officials to have a clear idea of the sewage network in the region,” he said.

According to Sabbagh, who heads the ministry’s Environmental Pollution Control Office, maps of the sewage network would help officials locate the source of the red-colored water.

“After finding the source, it would be a matter of hours to get to the factory and the area where the [colored] water is originating,” said Sabbagh adding that swift action would be taken against those responsible for it.

Saad Elias, an adviser to the environment minister, did not rule out the possibility that a slaughterhouse could be behind the red color.

“After going through several phases of butchering at the slaughterhouses, they store huge amounts of blood and animal parts in containers ... they might have dumped them into a sewage canal,” said Elias.

“The ministry will definitely investigate this matter because our role is to prevent pollution,” he added.

Meanwhile, local officials in the area suggested that a paint factory could be responsible for the incident. “There are several paint factories in Hadath,” said an official from the Shiyah municipality.

As officials tried to determine the source and the nature of the substance in the river, the Beirut prosecutor assigned the Internal Security Forces to launch an investigation into the matter.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 16, 2012, on page 1.

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