Air pollution levels in Israel proved exceedingly high in a World Health Organization (WHO) study released on Wednesday, in which the country was ranked 22nd worst in the world.
The WHO’s Ambient (Outdoor) Air Pollution in Cities Database for 2014 examined respirable particle levels for around 1,600 cities in 91 countries, compiling concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5, meaning particles with a diameter of 10 microns and 2.5 microns or less, respectively.
(A micron is one-millionth of a meter.) Out of the 91 countries, Israel was tied with Chile and Sri Lanka for 22nd worst in the PM10 category, the more widely measured of the two particles.
Of the 16 Israeli cities included in the survey, the worst offenders were Ashkelon and Modi’in.
WHO air quality guidelines say that PM10 values should not exceed 20 micrograms per cubic meter, and that PM2.5 values should not exceed 10 micrograms. (A microgram is one-millionth of a gram.) Accordingly, only about 12 percent of the world’s city dwellers live in places that meet these standards.
“Too many urban centers today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director- general for family, children and women’s health. “Not surprisingly, this air is dangerous to breathe. So a growing number of cities and communities worldwide are striving to better meet the needs of their residents – in particular children and the elderly.”
The mean annual level for PM10 concentrations around the world for the years 2008 through 2012 was 71 micrograms per cubic meter.
Exact PM2.5 values are slightly more complicated to determine because lower- and middle-income countries are not yet widely monitoring them directly; therefore, PM10 measurements must be converted to PM2.5 values for these places.
The highest levels of PM10 were measured in the eastern Mediterranean region, followed by southeast Asia.
Average mean PM10 and PM2.5 levels for the United Kingdom were 21 micrograms and 14 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively. For the United States they were 20 micrograms and 12 micrograms, respectively.
Israel’s annual mean level of PM10 nationwide was 64 micrograms per cubic meter – more than three times the accepted WHO standard. For PM2.5 it was 23 micrograms – more than two times the accepted standard. The data was provided by the Environmental Protection Ministry.
The highest offender in the PM10 category was Pakistan, at 282 micrograms per cubic meter, followed by Afghanistan, Bahrain, Senegal, Qatar, Bangladesh, UAE, Mongolia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Iran, Nepal, Ghana, China, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Mexico, Mauritius, Myanmar and Vietnam, and then Israel, Chile and Sri Lanka.
For PM2.5 rankings, Israel’s placement was slightly better, tying for 40th worst country with Tanzania, Cyprus, South Korea and the Philippines.
Pakistan was worst on this list as well, with 101 micrograms per cubic meter.
Looking at Israel cities individually, the annual mean PM10 levels in Ashkelon and Modi’in in 2010 were 74 micrograms and 70 micrograms per cubic meter. Air pollution monitoring stations in Beersheba, Beit Shemesh and Kibbutz Erez featured levels of 68 micrograms; in Tel Aviv 67 micrograms; in Karmei Yosef 66 micrograms; in Rehovot 63 micrograms; and in Ashdod 62 micrograms per cubic meter. Hadera and Haifa were significantly lower, with levels of 46 and 45 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively.
As for PM2.5 particles, Modi’in had the highest annual mean concentration in 2010, with 46 micrograms per cubic meter, followed by Beersheba and Beit Shemesh, at 45 micrograms, and Rehovot, at 42 micrograms. In Hadera it was 25 micrograms, while both Haifa and Ashdod had 22 micrograms per cubic meter.
In response to the WHO report, the Environmental Protection Ministry said that it has been taking comprehensive action in curbing air pollution levels in Israel, mandating emissions reductions in the transportation and industrial sectors, and promoting energy efficiency across the country.
It said that Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz had informed the Israel Electric Corporation that its power plants would not be granted emissions permits if it followed through with a recommendation by the recent Yogev Commission report to remove chimney filtration devices.
“The Environmental Protection Ministry passed this year a national plan to fight air pollution, and under the framework of upcoming budgeting discussions, the ministry will demand a substantial increase in the budget for the fight against air pollution,” a statement from the ministry said.
Dr. Arye Wenger, head of the air and energy department at Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), said he and his colleagues were not surprised to see the WHO survey results.
“For many years we have warned that air pollution is not a temporary or local problem, but a state calamity that requires a solution at a national level,” Wenger said.
He added that tools to reduce air pollution in Israel were under-utilized due to budgetary choices that prioritized activities such as building roads rather than promoting efficient public transportation.