Germany Accepts Toxic Waste From Port of Beirut Blast Cleanup

Mehr news blast port of beirut
Damage at the Port of Beirut after the blast (courtesy Mehr News / CC BY SA 3.0)

Published May 4, 2021 10:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

Germany will soon be accepting a shipment of 59 containers of hazardous waste from the Port of Beirut, which is still working to rebuild after the devastating blast at its grain terminal last year.

The heavy lift ship Amoenitas, operated by Combi Lift, is at Beirut and has taken the consignment of waste on board. Lebanon has limited capacity for handling hazmat on its own, and Germany is providing it with assistance for disposing of the material. 

"Combi Lift has been crucial in preventing further harm to the inhabitants of Beirut by cleaning hazardous material in the port," said German ambassador to Lebanon Andreas Kindl.

The waste's presence at the port of Beirut predated the explosion, and it had been sitting for years. According to The National, the majority of the removed containers are carrying hydrochloric acid, a common industrial chemical used for a wide variety of applications. 

The head of the Lebanese-German Business Council, Elias Assouad, told the outlet that the port has now been cleaned of  "all toxic, cancerous, flammable and highly reactive chemicals that have been stored here for decades." The removal marks a step forward for the port's long process to rebuild infrastructure and return to normalcy, but it is not the end: the UN Development Program estimates that at least 100,000 tons of contaminated materials were dispersed by the blast, including many of the potential pollutants commonly found as cargo at a modern seaport - chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and more, UNDP Environment and Energy Program director Jihan Seoud told VOA.

"These chemicals can have a negative effect on health of people that are exposed to them and can also contaminate the soil and water," Seoud said. 

There are several competing proposals for cleaning up and rebuilding the site, including an ambitious bid by a German consortium led by Hamburg Port Consulting and the real estate firm Colliers International. This team has proposed an ambitious $7.2 billion plan to relocate many of the port's warehouses away from the downtown waterfront and redevelop the area with "a mix of different residential buildings."

"We have strived for a concept that will create employment for tens of thousands of people, the reconstruction of hundreds of thousands of damaged homes and the opening up of Beirut to the sea, providing livable and socially oriented new homes in parts of the harbor not suitable to be operated as a port," said Hamburg Port Consulting managing director Suheil Mahayni in a statement.