BEIRUT: Emissions testing conducted after a trial incineration of expired drugs came back within safe levels, Environment Ministry officials told The Daily Star Thursday, paving the way for incineration of over 1,000 tons of expired goods and the end of the country’s yearlong food scandal.
In October, the Holcim concrete plant in Shekka, Batroun, incinerated 5 tons of drugs while an international emissions company monitored the exhaust from the plant.
The test was the first step in the process of eliminating a stockpile of spoiled goods discovered around the country early in 2012, in a series of revelations that sent a shock through the food and drug industries.
At the beginning of the year expired food was found being relabeled and sold to restaurants, prompting the government to try to carry out damage control for the country’s tourism and food service sector. In the wake of the initial scandal roughly 400 tons of expired drugs were discovered, in addition to around 700 tons of expired food.
The plan to burn the drugs at the Shekka Holcim plant came after nearly a year of protracted negotiations between ministries over the best way to dispose of the mass quantities of goods discovered. Negotiations were delayed for months after the resolution of the problem was initially projected.
Small quantities of expired drugs were usually re-exported and expired food thrown away. Incineration is a common form of trash disposal around the world, but Lebanon does not have a dedicated incineration facility and other disposal methods are often prohibitively expensive.
Two ministers signed off on the emissions report earlier this week and approved the burning of the rest of the expired goods stockpile, a process that Environment Ministry officials said they expect to take several months.
Boxes of the food and drugs will be hauled up Holcim’s towering concrete plant and periodically slid down into a 2,000 degrees Celsius incineration chamber to be burned burn away into a fine ash. If the disposal goes well, government officials have already approved other similar expired goods to be disposed of in the same way. Holcim is providing its facility free of charge to the government.