Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As Lebanon Recovers, Air Quality Deteriorates and Recycling Fails to Catch On

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As Lebanon Recovers, Air Quality Deteriorates and Recycling Fails to Catch On

Article excerpt

As Lebanon Recovers, Air Quality Deteriorates and Recycling Fails to Catch On

George Zeytoun, ear, nose and throat specialist at the American University Hospital (AUH), summed up his opinions on the quality of air in Beirut with the suggestion, "Stay at home in an oxygen tank.

The environment is a big issue in Lebanon. Big at least with the environmentalists and now with those in the medical field who are seeing more and more pollution-related problems in their patients.

Doctors report an alarming increase in respiratory problems. "We have recently noticed an upsurge of prolonged viral infections and a rise in respiratory problems or allergies in the upper and lower respiratory tracts -- especially in children," Zeytoun reports. The ingredients in Beirut's polluted air are as follows: sulfur dioxide, dust, carbon monoxide, fluorocarbons, hydrocarbons, lead, organic acids, smoke and exhaust fumes. All are in high concentrations to boot.

Another AUH doctor, Nadim Kanj, reports seeing from his personal experience a steady increase since 1992 in breathing problems such as pneumonia and viral syndromes.

No studies have been done, but it is obvious that there is plenty of pollution. Looking down on Beirut from the mountains reveals a thick layer of smog over the city. And more pollution and less public hygiene means more viruses, more allergies.

Can this really be blamed on air pollution alone? Dr. Zeytoun says yes. "I attribute this to the environment because I am speaking of cases where no other cause is found except exposure to environmental toxic products."

Air pollution has doubled the number of people with ailments -- especially among children. Beirutis, the doctor warned, are going to be increasingly prone to colds, pneumonia, bronchitis and allergies.

So what to do if you can't stay at home with an oxygen tank? Doctors call for a reduction in cars on the streets and for vehicles to be fitted with catalytic converters (none are). Just sitting in the endless traffic jams breathing emissions should be enough to convince people that something has to be done.

Air pollution also causes symptoms usually reserved for older people: poor concentration, loss of memory.

A pneumonogist at another Beirut hospital, Marie Louise Koussa Koniski, came to Lebanon two years ago from Canada. She reports seeing numerous cases of asthma, and severe ones.

Smoking is still a nearly universal habit among the Lebanese. Koniski said she was shocked at the number of smokers and the lack of awareness regarding the harmful effects of passive smoke.

The Marlboro man is the leading advertising icon. He's portrayed on giant cut-out figures throughout the country. He's even welcome in areas under Hezbollah control.

Awareness is an important word. When Lebanese émigraés gave their place of birth a second chance after the war, one mother decided against returning when her daughter, then six, went up to a Lebanese child who had thrown some candy wrappers on the ground and said, "Please don't pollute Mother Earth."

Parental role modeling isn't exactly going well either. Teacher friends of mine work hard in the lower grades to instruct the children about public cleanliness. Litter campaigns are frequent and well done. But stand outside the school when the parents pick up their little dears. The first thing they do is hand the child a soft drink and a sandwich. This appeases the child while the parent inches along in the traffic jam -- caused by school dismissal. …

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