When the olive press discharge mixes with drinking water, it contaminates it; flooding residential streets with sewage that seriously endangers the health of the community and the environment as a whole. These toxins rot the soil causing trees to dry out and die. It also provides an adequate ground for the multiplication of insects and rodents, and spreads nauseating smells– all the while the government is unaware and/or negligent of what is occuring.This is the result of the toxic sewage water (zybaar) that is discharged from olive press houses and flows freely into clean waters, thus breaching public safety and health standards. The contaminated waters pass in cities of Irbid, Jarash, Ajloun, Mahis, Salat and Amman. Laboratory analyses have shown that over two thirds of toxins are disposed of by throwing them into gorges and ravines– hence poisoning water sources. Therefore, rather than treating these toxins before being dumped, they are being discarded in the three dumps; one in the north, another in the center and one in the south of the Kingdom.On a different note, statements released by official departments seem conflicting. While, the Ministry of Agriculture denies having received complaints related to sewage water (zybaar), other government officials say that they have fined a number of people who own or work in olive press houses– mainly truck drivers– who denied having any responsibility. Sewage water, most commonly known as zybaar, is black in color. It is discharged from the seeds of the squeezed olives, which are called al jift, causing ecological, social and economic damages to our society. Furthermore, chemical analyses also indicated that zybaar is comprised of relatively high toxic rates, namely, organic acids. During the past season, such violations were detected over a 250,000 cubic meter area, originating primarily, from 100 press houses in various parts of the Kingdom.Hence, it is suffice to say that the distress continues; from cars skidding off roads, to the noisy clatter of trucks that carry zybaar that disrupts the quietude of certain areas, and from the trouble real estate agents are having when selling such areas, to the pollution threatening the life of citizens as well as the surrounding vegetation and fuana.Unresolved Tragedy
Not happy about the situation, Haj Suleiman Bani Ahmad, told us that zybaar flows powerfully alongside tons ofjift, and travels through streets, gorges, farms and springs– the main source of potable water. The hajj, who lives close to Sakib’s olive press house in Jarash, complained that sewage water has killed many trees on his farm. Another protester, Um Fadi, 45, who lives in the same area, explained that press houses are being built in fields adjacent to residential neighborhoods. She also added that in the absence of restrictive measures by the government, health problems have erupted, thus driving inhabitants to leave the area. She states that these measures should be enforced in order to demand violating parties to remove all residues, immediately after their press operations.Residents of neighboring towns also filed their grievances to Ministries of Environment and Agriculture, demanding the relocation of press houses to more remote areas. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to change the situation. Um Fadi said that “We put our house for sale at a very competitive price, but no one is interested in getting horrible smells, dirt and rodents that, noticeably, plug the place”.Serious Accidents
The bad effect of sewage water (zybaar) goes beyond pollution, causing some serious accidents to happen. Mohamad Nadeem Ayasrah, who lives in Jarash, said that the disturbing noises during the high season, and the jumbled traffic of zybaar delivery trucks, have caused unwanted accidents.
Mrs May Balbisi revealed that, she and a group of area residents, have addressed letters to the House of Ministers expressing their suffering. She accused owners of press houses of deliberately discarding zybaar on streets, in the rainy season, to avoid community protest. She also explained that such houses do not observe safety conditions; which have specific instructions on dumping zybaar and jift immediately after press operations, in order to prevent the spread of stinky smells– especially when jift decomposes with high summer temperatures.
Balbisi disclosed how some residents took specimen of the sewage waters for testing, and the results showed they contained toxic elements that are threatening to soil and water sources.
Mahis Environment Society member, Hussein Shayyab, accused Authorities of carelessness, since they are well aware of the severity of the situation, but have done nothing to ameliorate it.
He said press houses do not treat al jift properly before discarding it in the dump site at Akider, 110km north east of Amman. Owners of olive press houses discharge zybaar onto the main street, that leads to Wadi Shu’aib, which overlooks the Jordan Valley. He added that the latter area is considered to be the Kingdom’s main source for food provisions. Humble Efforts
On a different note, Mohamad Liho, revealed that the Jordan Environment Society of Jarash, which he heads, has warned press houses over the use of unsystematic and extensive dumping and accumulating of zybaar and jift, noting their damaging effects on ecology, primarily, on soil and underground water springs.
Warnings were only verbal, Liho explained “We did not file written complaints.” He also added that “most Jarash press houses do not observe safe standards for treatment of zybaar.”Field Observations
An olive press house lies wastefully in the heart of the town of Mahis; its front to residential neighborhoods, and a gorge which is connected to it flows into Wadi Shu’aib. Surrounding the house, are tons of jift and zybaar, that have piled over a long period of time, probably for months, as Mulhaq al Usbou’ newsletter reports.
Black zybaar downpours the town’s main street, forming a waterway that trespasses farms that lay at the foot of the olive press house. This waterway goes straight into the neighboring Wadi Shu’aib. Nauseating smells fill the place. Insects and flies roam about freely inside these houses, forcing dwellers to completely roll up their windows in the boiling summers.
Zybaar rests at the bed of the Wadi after causing irreparable damage to the environment, and leaving black lines marking the regions where it has passed through before reaching the Wadi.
Walid Abu Adiya, who owns one of the press houses, claimed that he discards al jift on a daily basis, but did not deny that zybaar flooding the street is a result of the accumulated discharge. He blamed truck drivers for spilling sewage waters from tank hoses while pulling out loads of jift explaining that “There is a burrow, on the property, for treating zybaar” he also added that “special container trucks carry the discharge to Akider dump site every day.”
He continued by saying that “Most of the drivers, however, get rid of sewage waters in open waterways and dells that we are not aware of.” However, “bad smells completely disappear after the press season is over, with no harm done to area residents,” he stated.
A truck driver, who refused to give his name, admitted discarding sewage zybaar in the nearest uninhabited spot. “We are paid 35 Jordanian dinars for each load,” he claimed, saying it was “unfeasible to carry it as far as the Akider dump site; this costs me unwanted expenses. So, I get rid of it in the nearest spot which is relatively distant from residential areas.”
An olive press house in Jarash was fined with 700 dinars for a number of violations, including discarding zybaar water, causing it to downpour heavily onto the main street connecting Jarash with Sakib. Moreover, as stated by Mohamad Rawashdeh (the City Mayor), that the leak has also reached the neighboring power station. Meanwhile, the press house controller, Amer Ziyadneh, alleged zybaar no longer constituted a problem, and that it is only a matter of time until the present seepage; which is the result of piles of accumulated jift, disappears.
The press house was also fined for discarding sewage water in Wadi Um Jouseh– an area rich in shallow waters and springs. But despite that, the house did not modify its problematic approach.
Rawashdeh said he took to court some of his irresponsible drivers, who were fined with 50 dinars. Other drivers had their driving licenses confiscated.
There are nearly 99 olive press houses across Jordan, with an estimated output capacity of 267 tons per hour. The great majority is in Irbid (38 press houses), Jarash (13), Ajloun (13) and the rest are distributed across the Kingdom.
Dubayn Reserve Polluted
Head of Dubayn Reserve, Yussef Zreiqat, declared that the number of inspectors inside the reserve has increased from 3 to 6 this year only. This was taken as a measure to face the widespread damages associated with zybaar sewage discharge. He said they were sending out joint patrols on the hour, in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Zreiqat disclosed that the Reserve staff team seized one of the drivers, and handed him over to the mayor of Jarash, who fined him after confiscating his truck and putting him in detention. Zreiqat said that drivers acted by an urge to cut down on expenses; the cost of delivery to Akider dump site per load is 60 dinars, and press houses pay only 35 dinars per one load, which, is clearly not sufficient to fill the gas needed for hauling.
Environment researcher at the same reserve, Mohamad al Utoum, confirmed the arrest of a number of truck drivers who threw their waste, on the Reserve’s property and surrounding areas. He pointed to the pool of sewage water engulfing the natural sanctuary. “This is pointblank proof that waste trucks do not go as far as Akider dump site,’’ he said, and “sometimes, they get rid of zybaar by loosening the hose opening toward Al Zarqa’ watercourse,” he added.
Reserve inspector, Imad Abdel Halim Abdel Qader, disclosed that discharge trucks have been doing ‘their job’ for 10 years now, in the absence of restrictive action by the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment.
He expressed anger over intervention by some members of parliament to release a driver, who deliberately unloaded his dump on Dubayn Reserve property, from prison.
He stressed the need to release vouchers for truck drivers to verify the number of loads they dumped at Akider.
Treatment System Lacking Furthermore, head of olive press houses syndicate, Mohamad Nazal, stated that related by-laws provide the money needed for the construction of cement reservoirs to collect zybaar sewage waters. He said that an agreement was reached between the Syndicate and the Ministry of Municipalities, allowing truck drivers to discard zybaar at Akider– giving them 300 dinars for each press line. “The Syndicate submitted proposals to the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment to procure or supply equipment for sewage treatment, in order to avoid any contamination of the water and soil by untreated zybaar,” Nazal added.
He spelled out some challenges facing the olive press houses sector. These included soaring prices of fuel and electricity; administrative delays in issuing permits to immigrant workers, and the increase in income tax; noting that this sector should be exempted because it is an agriculture-related industry.Missing Facts
Head of the Olive Office at the Ministry of Agriculture, Engineer Jamal Al Batsh, disclosed that the Ministry has set conditions for an environment-friendly treatment of zybaar sewage water at Akider dump site, or in places assigned by the provincial administrator. He made it clear that the Ministry of Municipalities is the authority responsible for vouchers. The fine for trucks that violate these conditions may be between 500-1000 dinars; noting that the judge has the right to double the amount or close down the house for one month.
Al Batsh denied having received any complaints related to zybaar, stressing that the Ministry did not refer any party to court, or fine, or close down any olive press house in the past season.
On demanding the Olive Press Houses Syndicate to supply equipment for zybaar treatment, Batsh said that this was the job of control departments, which he refused to name.
He stated that the Ministry was not responsible for income tax reduction or exemption, and advised the Syndicate to address its complaints to the tax department.
Chief of Agriculture Counseling at the Ministry of Agriculture, Engineer Khalil Jurn, declared that only 25 agriculture engineers monitor the overall agriculture production across Jordan, including olive season. He pointed out that the number of olive press houses have increased asymmetrically compared to the number of professional personnel who help face such challenges.
On the other hand, president of the Joint Services Committee in Irbid, Nawaf al Jammal, said that “press houses receive double copies of vouchers; the truck driver keeps one to present at Akider; the second copy remains with the house owner. At the end of the season, the dump site officers compare both vouchers, based on the amount of zybaar sewage dumped at the site.” Owners of some press houses deliberately abstain from supplying their drivers with such documents, Jammal added.
High Rates of Pollution
Zybaar sewage contains many pollutants and chemical elements, namely, Phenol and Oxygen Demand, which, according to Jordanian and international standards should not, by any means, be mixed with soil or potable water.
Meanwhile, analyses of soil specimen taken from the Minko region, showed a high concentration rate of soil contaminating elements, such as phenol, which reached up to 200-400 fraction of a million. The specimen was taken from a spot, 30cm away from zybaar enriched soil. Minko is close to the Dubayn Reserve, where sewage water is dumped.
Another specimen taken at 1m from the contaminated soil, showed levels of 40-60 fraction of a million. This analysis was conducted at the Modern Technology Laboratory of the University of Jordan. Professor of agriculture at University of Jordan, Dr. Malek Haddadin, warned that composites of Phenol are extremely harmful to environment, as they are easily absorbed by humans and animals.
He maintained that the toxic effect of these composites is spotted immediately by the sensitive organs and tissues of a human body, or an animal body, or in plants. The most vulnerable parts, he said, are the lungs, liver, urinary and reproductive organs.
Haddadin indicated that the level of composites of Phenol in sewage water resulting from the olive press process stands at 3000-24000 fraction of a million. He said that According to Italian standards, the maximum rate allowed for disposal at the dump sites, is 2 only fractions of a million, and stressed that soil should be completely free of these perilous chemicals, considering the time (up to a couple of years)they need to decompose.
Another analysis of underground water showed high rates of Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), between 6-24mg per 1cubic cm. The samplings were taken from Ain al Khirshan, at the foot of Sakib’s new press house and Ain al Maghasil, near Souf press house. The highest concentration was visible in Ain al Maghasil waters. The analysis also indicated presence of essential Biochemical Oxygen Demand(BOD) at varying rates. This analysis was conducted by Water Research Center Laboratory at the University of Jordan, in support of this 4-month investigative study.
Head of the Water Resources Center at the University of Jordan, Dr. Manar Faidi, said that the presence of the previously mentioned chemical pollutants in the water springs, is a clear indication of their contamination. Hence, their presence in drinking water also means that the source of pollution has penetrated underground waters, especially if we note the closeness of those springs to olive press houses.
Faidi warned that the rehabilitation of underground waters is a tough task that involves the restoration of clean potable water. She urged decision makers to put an end to the non-systematic dumping of zybaar, as a means of preventing any further contamination of underground sources.
In a related development, director of the Project for Comprehensive Management of Waterfalls in Jarash, Ziad al Alawneh, disclosed that the program involves a construction of zybaar sewage water treatment units in Al Mi’rad and Barma areas, in order to manage the pollution there, caused by olive press houses.
Alawneh said Al Mi’rad region embraces five olive press houses, which caused the pollution and eventually the closing down of Al Qairawan and Ain Al Deek water springs. The project aims at the restoration of zybaar waters to household drainage water standards, in preparation for their disposal at dump sites designated to that end, without fear of contaminating soil or underground sources. The project is funded by the European Union.
National Director of the EU-funded Project for Comprehensive Management of Waste, Dr. Adnan Khdeir, said the project incorporates new concepts of clean production, enforcement of control measures and treatment of pollutants. It involves setting up an adequate monitoring system at operational press houses. Khdeir maintained that the project also aims at establishing a pioneer station for decontaminating zybaar sewage waters in the north (Irbid), which is expected to be completed in three years. He said national legislations do not notice the treatment of zybaar as a separate issue, but as part of the contaminated industrial water.A study by Head of Environment Research Center at the Royal Scientific Society, Dr. Bassan Hayek, showed that zybaar composites in water cannot be discarded in the regular drainage system nor in the valleys or water basins. He said sewage waters should be first treated before its disposal in nature. This test was conducted in the early nineties on a specimen taken from 12 olive press houses in the north, and center of Jordan.
Inadequate Legislations The Ministry of Agriculture prohibits any action that pollutes the environment, particularly discarding solid and liquid residues from olive press houses. An adequate distance should separate those houses from underground and shallow water sources, such as springs, waterways and rivers. Olive plantations constitute nearly 2.1 million dunum (a dunum is a square measure, roughly 900m2), according to Ministry statistics. Olive produce reached 243,000 tons, and 36,000 tons of olive oil in 2006-2007. Around 60,000 households live from olive cultivation, thus making it an important source of employment.
In Jordan, there are 16 dump sites, including 13 that are restricted only to solid waste; no discarding of zybaar sewage waters is allowed. During the past season, nearly 75,000m3 out of 250,000m3 were thrown in three other dump sites (Akider, Lujoun and Tufeileh); the remaining two thirds or more, were discarded in gorges and waterways.
Solution Not Imminent
“Our suffering has been lingering since 1995,” said Mrs. Balbisi, who told us that she, and a group of women, filed complaints to 9 Ministries, including the Ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Health and Water Resources. Unfortunately, they did not receive any response.
(This report was compiled and prepared by the Amman-based Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism,www.ARIJ.net, in coordination with Coach, Saad Hatr)