Government officials in El Kram denied charges of having dumped toxic material into the sea after an online video surfaced showing a private waste management truck unloading gallons of content into a popular La Goulette swimming area.
The video, accompanied with the caption “Getting rid of sewage water and toxic waste in the sea,” has been viewed over 100,000 times on Facebook, stirring intense criticism of Tunisia’s waste management process. However, officials from the delegation of El Kram and the private waste management company, Society Yasmine Service, have refuted such charges during a press conference on Monday, claiming that the liquid in question was stagnant rainwater and not toxic waste. Locals confused the liquid for sewage or toxic waste because of the company’s reputation dealing with toxic materials, officials said.
Following the controversy, water from the drainage system was turned over to the Ministry of Health for testing, the results of which are pending.
“We will have the scientific proof from the analyses to prove there was no toxic waste thrown into the sea,” an official for Society Yasmine Services said.
According to representatives of the municipality, it is standard policy to transfer stagnant water that has accumulated in the country’s drainage system into the sea, a process company employees denied posed any environment concerns or health risks to the public.
“Even if it remains stagnant for years, it’s just rainwater. It is not dangerous,” a municipality official said .
“We didn’t transport contaminated water to dump into the sea,” a representative for for the private company added. “It was from the area.”
However, according to the President of the environmental advocacy group SOS Biaa, Morched Garbouj rainwater that has stagnated for a period of up to 20 years in underground networks can easily become contaminated and should be tested before being transferred to the sea to minimize health risks, a procedure that a government official told Tunisia Live had not been followed in this case.
“There are guidelines for discharging any type of liquid into the environment,” Garbouj told Tunisia Live. “With the law, you cannot just discharge water.”
“You need the laboratory analysis to confirm that this water is in accordance with the guidelines,” he said.
Concerns over waste management and water sanitation are not new to Tunisia.
In May 2016, water supplies in the areas surrounding the Borj Chakir landfill was determined to be unsuitable for human consumption or the use of farmland, previously a prime source of income for much of the community.
A campaign to launch an “eco-police” unit was criticized by Garbouj in September, who said the project would fail to tackle the main culprits of pollution.
“The biggest offender is the government, by throwing waste and contaminated water into the Gulf of Tunis (Rades, Zahra, Hammam Lif) discharged by the National Office for Sanitation (ONAS) plus the landfill in Borj Chakir.” he said, “Is the government going to fine ONAS, which means fining itself?”
“This project is a waste of money. It’s about fining the citizens and not the government,” he said.