Just several days after the height of Lag Ba’omer air pollution, the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee unanimously approved stricter air-quality standards that will save 700 lives annually, the Environmental Protection Ministry said.

The ministry expects that full compliance with the new standards will prevent the deaths of about 700 people annually and will eliminate the need for hundreds of hospitalizations each year, while significantly reducing the incidence of heart and lung disease.

In addition, due to the reduced health damages caused by air pollution, the government should save approximately NIS 8 billion annually, the ministry said.

“We are taking care of – today – our children and grandchildren’s futures,” said Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz. “The new regulations will save lives and will bring Israel up to the most advanced standards in the world.”

For the first time ever, Israel is establishing a standard for permissible concentrations of tiny respirable PM 2.5 particles, which have become infamous globally as one of the most significant air pollutants in terms of public health, according to the ministry.

The new PM 2.5 standard for Israel will be 25 micrograms per cubic meter – the average level for the country – and will match the European standard for this particle’s presence.

While the United States Environmental Protection Agency brought its own standard down in January from 15 to 12 micrograms per cubic meter, Israel cannot take such drastic measures, as the country experiences heavy dust storms blowing in from Africa that the US does not encounter, a ministry spokesman explained.

In addition to controlling PM 2.5 presence, the ministry will also be adjusting standards for nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide levels in the air, making the regulations regarding these chemicals stricter than those in Europe, the ministry said.

Following a US EPA decision to increase the allowable concentration of methylene chloride in the air, the Environmental Protection Ministry, together with the Health Ministry, will be doing so as well, the office added.

All of the newly approved standards will take effect in two years, in order to allow factories and other facilities to adjust their operations as needed, the ministry noted.

No new factories, roads, quarries or other sites that cannot comply with the regulations will be approved for future construction, the office said.

“These regulations are an important step in improving air quality and protecting public health,” said Dr. Arie Wenger, head of the air and energy department at Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense).

Adam Teva V’Din executive director Amit Bracha meanwhile congratulated the Environmental Protection Ministry and Peretz, as well as Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu), for bringing the regulations to both discussion and approval.

“This is a first and important environmental discussion of the International Affairs and Environment Committee that will guide Israel toward the path of fully implementing the Clean Air Law and will lead it toward countries that place the environment at the top of their priorities,” Bracha said.

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