Boasting a front-yard garden of potted plants and palm fronds, an otherwise pastoral cottage in the heart of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha threatens the lungs of those who enter – following the collapse of its asbestos roof under rocket fire.
Chunks of asbestos and netting materials hang down in the rooms of the house, the result of a July 17 rocket strike on the western Negev kibbutz, located in the Eshkol regional just east of southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis.
While the roof in this house collapsed due to a direct hit, hundreds of other residences in the Gazan perimeter region likewise feature asbestos shingles and remain similarly vulnerable.
A silicate mineral fiber once popular in roofing and insulation, among other purposes, prolonged exposure to asbestos can cause diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
“Gaza perimeter residents are facing the danger of mortar fire and in many cases, as a result of damage, asbestos roofs are becoming a dangerous threat,” Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said. “I informed the regional council that with the goal of protecting the residents from the threat of asbestos, we will prepare a joint program with all the relevant bodies in order to replace the asbestos roofs in hundreds of houses along the front line of the Gaza perimeter communities.”
The Prevention of Asbestos Hazards and Hazardous Dust Law (2011) enabled the evacuation of asbestos in the Western Galilee, half financed by the Environmental Protection Ministry and half by the polluter. But no such protocols exist for asbestos evacuation in other areas of the country.
The government banned the use of asbestos in building projects starting from 2005.
In light of the constant fire plaguing the Gazan perimeter, the ministry has recognized the urgency of replacing the asbestos roofs in these areas.
“You can see that all the roof areas here are filled with asbestos, including the farm,” Guy Samet, the Environmental Protection Ministry’s southern district manager, told The Jerusalem Post during a Monday morning visit to Ein Hashlosha.
Damage to asbestos materials results in the release of hazardous respirable particles, Samet said.
In the face of rocket fire, an asbestos roof presents even more danger than cooking gas cannisters, he added, gesturing toward the damaged roof and a nearby gas tank.
Asbestos damage, Samet said, remains “much after the war is over.”
While the kibbutz has long been essentially empty, due to evacuation orders to Eshkol region communities, he said that the residents “can’t come back like this.”
The ministry decided to promote a program to replace the vulnerable roofs, and hoped to find a funding partner in either another governmental authority or an outside organization, Samet said.
Isaac Edelstein, the Ein Hashlosha business manager and a 37-year Uruguayan-Israeli resident of the kibbutz, told the Post he estimates that about 80 buildings in their kibbutz have the problematic roofs.
Edelstein said that he and the other kibbutz members have been trying to achieve government financing for replacement of the roofs for years, but nothing has worked as of yet.
From the beginning of the Israeli-Gazan conflict through Monday morning, about 825 rockets had been fired at the Eshkol region, according to council chairman Haim Yalin.
The chairman addressed Environment Ministry staff from the council’s sheltered underground meeting room that morning, as several blasts shook the walls above.
All in all, the 825 rockets account for more than a quarter of the rocket fire during the current Gaza conflict, Yalin’s presentation showed.
Meanwhile, there are about 700 residences with asbestos roofs located along the Gazan perimeter’s front lines, Yalin said.
Financing the roof replacements for all of these residences in seven communities – Kerem Shalom, Holit, Sufa, Nir Oz, Nirim, Ein Hasholsha and Kisufim – would require about NIS 200 per square meter of roof, according to Samet.
Evacuation of asbestos costs about NIS 50 per square meter and treatment and replacement with cement adds an additional NIS 150 per square meter.
In Ein Hashlosha, for example, there are about 7,000 square meters of asbestos roof, with about 60 sq.m. of such roof per house, he said.
Despite the fact that exact financing plans have yet to be solidified, Samet said he is confident that the program will receive swift government support and financing from partner organizations.
“We wouldn’t present it if we didn’t think it could be done,” he said.