BEIRUT: Tons of wheat, corn and barley stored at the Port of Beirut since the devastating explosion that rocked the city 16 months ago are to be disposed of as they are no longer fit for consumption, it has been found.
As temperatures change, mold, weevils and other insects have made it impossible to reach the contents of silos at the site without protective equipment; according to the World Health Organization, mold produces mycotoxins “which can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock … ranging from acute poisoning to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer.”
Before the blast, the port’s silos contained about 45 tons of wheat, barley and corn, most of which was lost during the explosion. Minister of Environment Nasser Yassin said that six to seven tons remain at the site.
Lab tests run on samples of wheat in cooperation with the ministries of economy, agriculture and environment, the American University of Beirut, Saint Joseph University, and the French Embassy, which brought in experts to assist, showed that the crops “are suitable for neither human nor animal use.”
In August, a year after the explosion, the remaining grains were removed from their silos and stored in the open air to reduce the risks of accidental fires in the hot weather, but resulted in hastening the demise of the crops as fit for consumption.
A committee formed under the government of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab failed to reach a solution.
Yassin told Arab News: “We decided to ferment these quantities and turn them into compost to be distributed to farmers for free, or turn them into industrial firewood to be given to the Lebanese Army to heat its units in the high mountains, or donate them to needy families living in cold areas.”
He added: “Turning them into compost allows us to avoid any procedure that produces heavy metals, and we started with this process with the help of MAN Group, which obtained funding from France to treat organic waste resulting from the explosion, and had signed the contract with the Lebanese state in May.”
The grain is set to be moved to the municipality of Zahle, which has a landfill site able to treat waste and transform it into compost and firewood.
Yassin noted: “We seek to produce 3,000 tons of compost and 3,000 tons of industrial firewood. We have so far been able to produce 500 tons of compost, which is an organic fertilizer and will be distributed free of charge to farmers and we have finished producing 1,000 tons of industrial firewood through special presses.
“Indeed, this type of firewood does not last long while it burns, but we hope that it will alleviate the distress of people who cannot buy diesel for heating during winter, and curb the phenomenon of cutting trees to secure firewood for homes as an alternative to diesel.”
The silos at the port absorbed about 20 percent of the blast wave, which resulted from storing 1,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port alongside seized explosives. Over 220 people died, more than 6,500 were injured and the city’s waterfront was destroyed.
Experts who initially examined the site stressed that the wheat silos, which were severely damaged, would need to be be demolished because they were on the verge of collapsing.
Former Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said in November 2020: “The government will demolish the silos due to public safety concerns.”
However, the Lebanese authorities are yet to take action.
The wheat silos are made up of a giant 48-meter concrete structure built between 1968 and 1970, with a huge storage capacity of over 100,000 tons.
Once considered a key element in Lebanon’s food security, the silos have today become a symbol of the catastrophe.