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French environmentalists arrive to assist in oil-spill damage control, clean-up

French environmental experts arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday to assist in efforts to clean up the country's largest oil spill in history and monitor the disaster's repercussions.

The spill, caused by Israeli air strikes on the Jiyyeh power plant's fuel tanks in July, now plagues two-thirds of Leb-anon's coastline.

"We are introducing a new technique that will deal specifically with the clearing of oil from pebbled beaches and rock pools," said Bernard Fichaut, a geography professor at Britannia-Breste University in France.

"This technique, otherwise known as 'surf-washing,' has been around for 30 years and has proven to be the best method available to clear the oil quickly, cleanly and at a low cost," he said.

The technique consists of collecting all the oil-covered rocks and stones from the coastline and blasting them with hot water in order to remove the oil. The process is repeated all along the beach until all the oil is caught in nets and can be cleared.

Denis La Croix, from the French National Institute of the Sea, arrived with Fichaut on Wednesday and will also analyze and monitor the effects of the oil spill on local marine life.

"While at the moment we have focused on a short-term program to monitor the effects of the oil spill on sea life, the long-term consequences are just as important," La Croix said.

"Creatures such as plankton, mollusks and going all the way up the food chain to fish and even birds are being directly affected; obviously this has the potential to create an ecological disaster," he said.

La Croix said there would be additional French missions to Lebanon in the near future to address various concerns resulting from the spill.

La Croix and Fichaut are both working in Lebanon in collaboration with Bahr Loubnan, a local environmental organization that has already cleared 24,000 liters of oil from the Bondi-Bellevue beach and another 2,000 liters from Sands Rock beach, both in Jiyyeh.

Mohammad Sarji, a member of Bahr Loubnan, said the organization was focusing on removing oil from the surface of the sea.

However, while clean-up efforts have been relatively successful on the beaches of Jiyyeh and Jbeil, an oil leak at Ramlet-el-Baida has forced work there to be suspended since mid-September, leaving many asking how long the oil can remain on the beach before causing irreparable damage.

Beirut,10 09 2006
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The Daily Star
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