BEIRUT — A group of researchers at the American University of Beirut said in a statement on the ongoing electricity crisis that the level of toxic emissions in the country may have increased by 300 percent from pre-crisis levels as a result of the increased reliance on diesel generators.
Here’s what we know:
• A 2012 study in which AUB researchers measured emissions levels in Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood found that during the three hours a day of generator use at the time, carcinogenic emissions increased by about 60 percent over the background levels, accounting for about 38 percent of the daily carcinogenic exposure in the area.
• A group of researchers, led by the director of the AUB Nature Conservation Center Najat Saliba, issued a statement over the weekend estimating that with the increased use of generators — as Électricité du Liban has “shut down its operation almost entirely” — the level of emissions may have increased by as much as 300 percent.
• The researchers based their projection on a scenario in which diesel generators are operating 24 hours a day, amounting to an eightfold increase in their hours of operation in Beirut; however, in many buildings, generators are shut off several hours a day due to the cost of fuel, supply shortages, and wear and tear on machines.
• A 300 percent increase in emissions would translate into an annual increase of about 550 cancer cases, an estimated 3,000 people developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and about 500 additional hospital admissions due to cardiovascular diseases, including strokes, amounting to an additional $8 million a year in public health costs, they said.
• “If EDL took over all the electricity coverage... pollutant emissions would be lower than the generator alternative,” they wrote, noting that pollution from power plants would be concentrated in less-populated areas “rather than spread out across densely crowded regions, bringing less exposure and risk to public health.”