The Unilever Strauss ice cream factory and the Azrieli Mall in Acre should no longer continue to operate side-by-side, as the ammonia from the plant poses too much of a risk to those inside the mall, an Environmental Protection Ministry review has determined.

After an extensive examination of the area, the ministry submitted an opinion on Wednesday to the appeals board at the northern region’s Committee for Planning and Building that the simultaneous activity of both factory and mall poses a threat to public safety.

The ice cream factory contains very large quantities of ammonia, and there are only seven meters of separation between the two buildings, according to ministry data.

In preparing the opinion, the Environmental Protection Ministry conducted extensive discussions with representatives of the plant about the possibility of reducing the risks generated by the ammonia. However, after reviewing the data submitted by the factory, the ministry decided that there can be no solution in which the two buildings can operate sideby- side.

One of the businesses must therefore move to an alternate location, according to the opinion.

Ministry officials also stressed that at the time the Azrieli group applied for a permit to populate the mall, the ministry had filed objections about the mall being situated next to an existing plant in which ammonia was stored, but the permit was approved regardless.

Under the circumstances and given the minuscule distance between the buildings, the ministry recommended the poisons permit for the plant not be renewed, unless the appeals committee decides to revoke the permission given to populate the mall.

Both at this stage and at the stage when the Planning and Building Committee originally approved the mall population permit, the Environment Ministry only had power to state its opinions, rather than veto the plans entirely, ministry officials explained.

The environmental organization Zalul praised the ministry’s opinion and its “recognition of the lifethreatening nature of concentrations of ammonia in the heart of the Acre population.”

The group noted, however, that an ammonia tank in Haifa Bay, situated next to Rambam Medical Center and populated areas, contains 12,000 tons of ammonia and is likewise endangering hundreds of thousands of lives.

In response to the situation under discussion in Acre, however, Unilever – owners of the Strauss ice cream factory – stressed that the plant “has been operating in the city of Acre for 50 years, under all approvals and permits according to the law.”

“The factory did and is doing much on the subject of the safety system, which meets the highest standards currently in effect globally, as well as in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Ministry,” a statement from Unilever said.

The appeals committee is conducting hearings about the Azrieli Mall, following the request of the Environment Ministry to cancel the permit to populate granted to the facility, according to Unilever. The company maintained, however, “that it is possible to maintain both the factory and the mall sideby- side.” An Azrieli Group spokewoman said that the company had no comment about the situation.

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