Citing issues of possible land and groundwater contamination, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira criticized the inaction of various government bodies at a former air force base in Lod and on the grounds of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
In one section of the report, Shapira particularly censured the Defense Ministry and several other authorities for their passivity regarding the evacuation of Lod Air Force Base 27. Following a government-mandated evacuation of the base in December 2009, the Defense Ministry failed to swiftly clean the contaminated soil, remove infrastructure and return the land to the Israel Lands Authority – causing undue environmental harm and wasting money, Shapira argued.
Another portion of the report examined decades of probable groundwater and soil pollution at the David Institute of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in the North. Shapira argued that explosives and other materials the institute produced had likely seeped into the soil, rendering the groundwater undrinkable yet eliciting insufficient response from the company and relevant authorities.
Lod Air Force Base 27 was on land with strategic importance to the Airports Authority and Israel Aerospace Industries, both of which intend to expand there, according to the report.
In 2002, the government tasked the Defense Ministry with evacuating the 150-hectare space and returning the land clean to the ILA afterwards. By December 2008, the Defense Ministry, with additional funds from the Finance Ministry, acted upon this order and began evacuating the base, the state comptroller said.
The evacuation was complete in the end of December 2009, yet by the time of the audit – which concluded after 10 months in March 2013 – the Defense Ministry still had not cleaned the contaminated lands or transferred them to the ILA, the report said.
In addition to faulting the Defense Ministry as a whole, the state comptroller criticized the IDF’s division for logistics and property operations with regards to cleaning the contaminated soil and removing the infrastructure. In addition, the report blamed the ILA itself for not acting decisively enough in hastening the ministry’s evacuation and cleaning process.
The years of delay have increased financial costs to the state, due to the ongoing environmental damages and the possible spread of contamination into the groundwater, the report said.
In response, the Defense Ministry stressed it had acted and continued to act toward returning the land to the ILA, meanwhile “investing great resources in the evacuation and cleaning, including proper ecological treatment of asbestos hazards.”
The ministry claimed, however, that the ILA signed an deal to transfer lands to the Airports Authority without coordination with defense bodies.
“Accordingly, everything involving with the future treatment of land allocated to the Airports Authority is not the responsibility of the defense system,” the Defense Ministry said.
Meanwhile, with respect to the Israel Aerospace Industries land allocation, the Defense Ministry said it had conducted extensive cleaning work in collaboration with Home Front Command, the air force and private contractors.
Farther north, at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’s David Institute between Kiryat Motzkin and Acre, Shapira slammed relevant parties for contributing to environmental degradation.
In the 1970s, Mekorot National Water Company drilled wells in the David Institute area to acquire about 1.6 million cubic meters of groundwater annually – a quantity that gradually decreased, until Mekorot closed the wells in the 1990s, the report said. According to Mekorot, the wells were closed due to the presence of impurities in the groundwater and an inability to access the wells, yet Rafael attributed these closures to the water’s high salinity and drill malfunctions.
As of the completion of the state comptroller audit that took place from November 2011 through June 2013, Mekorot claimed the Israeli water sector had accrued up to 2.8 million cubic meters in water losses at this site.
Adhering to the demands of the Environmental Protection Ministry, Rafael completed a survey of the David Institute in September 2012, which demonstrated that the materials used by Rafael have “high potential” of being present as soil and groundwater contaminants, the state comptroller said. Yet responses from Rafael in August 2013 claimed that the company had “only partial contributions” to the presence of groundwater contaminants, the report said.
Although the scope of the environmental damage has yet to be fully determined, Shapira demanded the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Water Authority act decisively in conducting investigations and removing impurities as necessary.
But the state comptroller maintained that the ultimate body responsible for reporting on and addressing pollution levels in the area remained the company itself.
“It was expected that Rafael would initiate the required activities for checking potential soil and groundwater contamination resulting from its activities at the David Institute, in coordination with the government bodies responsible for the subject and for approvals, even in the absence of adequate enforcement activity over the years,” Shapira wrote.
Regarding the Rafael site, the Defense Ministry confirmed that it had already granted necessary security approvals for environmental tests to occur at the site.
For its part, Rafael stressed that the company had conducted many pollution tests over the years and had engaged in treatment operations in coordination with the relevant authorities.
“It is important to note that to the best of our knowledge, none of the published findings constitute a risk to the general public,” a statement from the company said.
Adding that issues of environment are integral parts of the Rafael’s operations, the company said that it complies with international standards and “will continue to do all that it takes to meet the necessary requirements of relevant bodies and authorities.”