In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, Benjamin Plackett interviews Professor Najat Saliba, an atmospheric chemist at the American University of Beirut:
On top of all this, the explosion in August emitted vast amounts of chemicals into the atmosphere. What effects did the explosion have?
No glass door or window on campus remained in place after the explosion. The university paid over $10 million to repair the damage.
The army wouldn’t let scientists go inside the port to take samples, but my lab took rubble samples close to the port where the blast happened. We were mostly interested in asbestos because we had learned that’s what most of the port was made of. Luckily, we didn’t find any. However, the samples didn’t come from the port itself, so they’re not conclusive.
We were worried that asbestos might trail into the city through the air, so we collected air samples in a couple of places inside the city and sent them to labs in France and Switzerland for analysis. However, due to the pandemic, everything has been put on hold, and the testing hasn’t yet confirmed or denied the presence of asbestos or other toxic substances. Nothing about this explosion has been clear.
I think it's safe to say that the effects of aerosolizing a huge amount of inorganic matter and having people breathe it would be bad - can't imagine the long-term damage if it were actually reasonably high-levels of asbestos within...