Asbestos hazards continue to plague Beit Meir residents after fires.
(photo credit: ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION MINISTRY)
A number of Beit Meir residents were evacuated on Wednesday – again – this time due to concerns over the presence of asbestos following last week’s fires.
Asbestos is generally considered safe when securely contained in unbroken building materials, but when damaged, it releases fibers that can cause cancer if breathed.
Residents of Beit Meir, a religious moshav located in the Jerusalem Hills, were originally evacuated last weekend after a fire broke out Thursday night.
In both Beit Meir and Haifa, which also experienced a wave of fires, the Environmental Protection Ministry immediately issued alerts, that a number of structures that had succumbed to the flames contained asbestos.
The ministry warned that all those who live within 50 meters of such structures must stay inside, with their windows and doors shut. In addition, they warned those driving by these buildings to keep their car windows closed.
Last weekend, during initial operations to mitigate the asbestos dangers in Beit Meir, workers began the process of encapsulation, or sealing asbestos fibers inside a protective coating. As of midday Sunday, the ministry said that the encapsulation work had been nearly completed, and that 90% of residents returned to their homes.
But on Wednesday evening, residents of 25 households who had already been permitted to return home, were evacuated by the ministry once again, due to fears of asbestos dangers, according to media reports.
In response to the reports, the Environmental Protection Ministry clarified that the initial repairs were only sufficient to protect residents for a few days, and that the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council was in the process of implementing the long-term solution.
A statement from the ministry stressed that the office “stands by the goal of reducing public exposure to pollutants and preventing danger to residents in all of its activities.”
It reiterated that, already on Saturday, the regional council brought in a contractor to do preliminary encapsulation, as well as to install necessary fencing and signage. Workers from the ministry, meanwhile, accompanied the contractor during field operations that lasted through Monday.
“The immediate and initial operations were carried out following the burning of asbestos-containing buildings in accordance with global standards, but their effect is limited to a few days alone.”
The ministry therefore recommended that residents return to their homes, but only short-term, and “under restrictive conditions of seclusion until the hazard is removed.”
While the initial encapsulation actions by the contractor were critical, the ministry stressed that the regional council must conduct a complete asbestos removal operation to ensure long-term safety.
However, as a result of the rainy weather conditions, as well as the inability to work on Shabbat in a religious moshav, the council’s asbestos removal activities are only slated to start at the beginning of next week.
“For precautionary reasons, we recommended that the council evacuate residents living nearby – up to 50 meters from – asbestos hazards until they are removed,” the ministry said.