“People who cleared debris after explosion Beirut are at risk of cancer

Thousands of Lebanese who went searching in the rubble after the devastating explosion in Beirut for victims and possessions are at risk of lung cancer. They are likely to have inhaled fine asbestos particles that cause lung cancer years after exposure, says Professor of Air Pollution Charbel Afif in The National. The many volunteers, workers and aid workers who helped clean up rubble in the following weeks in the neighbourhoods around the port are also at risk.

Nearly 200 people were killed by the explosions on 4 August, 6000 people were injured. Some 40,000 buildings were damaged, both historic palaces and modern skyscrapers and houses. Buildings built in the second half of the twentieth century, in particular, contained a lot of asbestos in suspended ceilings, corrugated iron roofs and pipes.

No protection

There is a lot of criticism of the government, which failed after the explosion and only after two weeks deployed the army to provide assistance. That’s why the residents went to work themselves.

“It is now impossible to say what the effects of this explosion will be on the population in and around the affected area”, says Jina Talj, director of an environmental organisation.

Because Lebanon itself does not have the knowledge to assess dangerous material, samples have been sent abroad. “But it may be weeks before we have the results. Until then there’s nothing we can do,” says Talj.

The experts find it incomprehensible that the government has never drawn up guidelines for dealing with asbestos, nor does it check for them. “There must be a clear management plan for the removal of rubble, including asbestos. As far as I know, there never has been,” says environmental scientist Adib Kfoury. “Now I see people working on their own, no one to coordinate it.”

No education

Under the tens of thousands of damaged buildings are almost 160 schools. Windows and doors have been blown out and many complexes are on the verge of collapse. As a result, an estimated 85,000 Lebanese children and young people are unable to start the new school year

“We are trying to help as best we can, but our capacity is very limited”, said Education Minister Tarek al Majzoub to France 24. Unesco is therefore launching an emergency action to raise funds for the reconstruction and repair of the affected educational institutions. Some 20 million euros are needed for this.