Factories throughout Israel emitted a variety of carcinogens in 2012, threatening public health despite legal compliance with Environmental Protection Ministry standards, a report released on Monday claimed.
Written by Dr. Arye Wenger – head of the air and energy department at Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) – the report examines emissions levels for six dangerous substances in 2012: arsenic, mercury, formaldehyde, hydrocarbons, benzene and trichlorethylene.
Among the cities to fare the worst in Wenger’s research were Ashdod (arsenic and formaldehyde), Ashkelon (mercury), Haifa (hydrocarbons), Hadera (benzene) and the Jordan Valley community Menahemya (trichlorethylene).
The report’s findings are based upon Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) data issued by the Environmental Protection Ministry for 2012, according to the NGO.
Despite the fact that the factories technically were abiding by legal emissions standards, Wenger argued that the ministry should have enacted further policy measures to reduce them.
“Regulations never provide full protection of public health and the environment – damage may occur even at environmental levels that meet the standards,” Wenger said. “Therefore, we must examine the emissions of hazardous materials with a magnifying glass and bring about their reduction by means of modern environmental policy.”
While not all of the precise impacts of these substances is fully known, a portion of the toxins examined are widely known to be carcinogens and their collective impact upon public health can be fatal, the report explained. For example, inhalation of mercury vapor can cause poisoning manifested in damage to vision, memory and hearing. Arsenic, meanwhile, is a carcinogen with strongly poisonous effects to the respiratory and nervous systems and benzene causes anemia and damages blood production, the report said.
The Yehuda Steel plant in Ashdod emitted the highest amount of arsenic in Israel, while Israel Electric Corporation’s Rutenberg power plant in Ashkelon released the largest amount of mercury, the report said. The IEC’s Eshkol power plant in Ashdod emitted the most formaldehyde, while its Orot Rabin plant in Hadera released the greatest amounts of benzene, according to the report data. As far as trichlorethylene is concerned, the Sitahal-Hagal Talia waste treatment site in the Jordan Valley village Menahemya emitted the most of this chemical, the report said.
“Standards are not an end-all,” said NGO executive director Amit Bracha. “When a factory emits massive amounts of poison in the air, we must limit this, even if there is no violation of the law.”
The Environmental Protection Ministry’s PRTR database first obliged factories to their emissions data in May 2013, for the year 2012. Israel first began building its PRTR program in 2009, as part of its commitments to joining the OECD.
In response to the Adam Teva V’Din report, IEC pointed out that the data refers to the year 2012, during which the Egyptian natural gas supply to Israel was disabled. As a result, the country needed to make use of more polluting and expensive diesel and oils, until the Tamar natural gas supply came online in March 2013. In addition, it said that the report fails to take into account various mechanisms of power plants like chimney height and temperature adjustments, which serve to minimize the amount of chemicals making their way to the public.
“Unfortunately, the report creates a distorted picture, which does not give a true indication of public exposure to polluting substances,” a statement from the IEC said.
Executives from the Yehuda Steel plant, meanwhile, emphasized that their factory is one of Israel’s oldest recycling plants, where scrap metal is sorted and transformed into usable raw materials. The company said that the data used regarding their factory was actually from 2010 and 2011, stressing that in 2012, the plant installed advanced technologies for filtering emissions.
As a result, the factory has demonstrated tremendous improvement since, and PRTR data for 2013 indicates that mercury and arsenic levels were reduced to almost zero, a spokeswoman said.
“The great challenges of the recycling industry are energy consumption and air pollution, so the company invests great thought and resources in energy efficiency and in reducing pollutant emissions,” she said.
Following the NGO report release, the Environmental Protection Ministry stressed that it constantly monitors the status of the environment and assesses the exposure of Israel’s population to pollutants emanating from industrial and transportation sources. In order to accomplish this task, the ministry said it makes use of 130 air quality monitoring stations to measure the levels of various contaminants.
When factories receive operation permits from the ministry, they are required to make use of the best available techniques to reduce emissions, particularly of toxins and carcinogens, as per the Clean Air Law, the ministry said. Since the implementation of the law in 2011, emissions have been reduced dramatically – such as a reduction of 60 percent of volatile organic compounds in the Haifa Bay from 2009 to 2013, the ministry added.
As far as the Yehuda Steel plant is concerned, the Environment Ministry affirmed that the factory was tasked with installing a number of pollution reduction measures by the end of 2014. In addition, the ministry explained, the factory received a limit on its permissible mercury and arsenic emissions and has committed to continuously monitoring levels of these materials and of other metals.