Aerial view of Haifa.
(photo credit: COURTESY ASHDAR)
The Environmental Protection Ministry is stepping up its efforts to fight air pollution in the Haifa Bay by installing new mobile air pollution monitoring units and boosting enforcement to remove polluting cars from the road.
The ministry’s Haifa director, Shlomo Katz, said that the two new units were intentionally placed to compare the amount of pollution from petrochemical facilities to the amount from vehicles.
“[The stations] are designed to show the public that air pollution does not pose danger to those living in the area,” Katz said in a statement, though he said they will still work to lower air pollution levels in order to “protect the health and quality of life for residents.”
His words contradicted statements made in the past by the ministry’s head Avi Gabbay, who said the most conservative figures show that roughly 1,500 people die annually as a direct result of air pollution. Furthermore, preliminary results of a University of Haifa study, leaked on January 31, indicated that exposure to pollution from the petrochemical industry caused some pregnant women in Haifa to give birth to babies with heads 20 to 30 percent smaller than average.
The ministry did not respond to requests for clarification.
One of the monitoring stations was placed in Kiryat Tivon, which was named as one of the neighborhoods most affected by air pollution. The station, which sits near a Petroleum & Energy Infrastructures Ltd. facility, will track the amount of benzene, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter in the air.
The second station, located outside the Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Cultural Center in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, will focus on measuring nitrogen dioxide and benzene.
The ministry’s current program to fight air pollution aims to cut industrial air pollution in half by 2018, and the ministry is spending NIS 330m. on anti-pollution efforts over the next five years.
The ministry also announced on Wednesday that it would increase efforts to remove vehicles emitting heavy fumes from the road and would issue more fines for violators. So far, environmental police have pulled over 200 vehicles as part of the enforcement efforts.
Later in the day, the ministry announced that it would postpone until May decisions regarding the construction of a new ammonia facility. In 2012, the state decided to move the controversial 17,000-ton ammonia facility to the South and the ministry was directed to build a new plant in an unpopulated part of the Negev by 2017. However, delays have been numerous and criticism of the plant has gone beyond pollution after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently threatened to target the site.