A STROLLER sits on the boardwalk in Haifa. An official report is due months after a leaked portion showed that babies born in the city had smaller heads than average..
(photo credit: MICHELLE MALKA GROSSMAN)
The first official report on Haifa’s pollution and disease rates is ready, with one caveat: The government does not deem it ready for the public’s eyes just yet.
On Thursday, the researchers carrying out a five-year Haifa epidemiology report submitted their findings from the study’s first year to the Environmental Protection Ministry, exactly two months after preliminary results were leaked to the public.
The results discovered in late January shocked the public as it exposed the study’s links between Haifa-area pollution from the petrochemical industry and a number of health issues, including abnormalities in babies and parts of the city with higher rates of disease.
Officials at the time scrambled to explain results, saying the data were inconclusive since the report was not finished, but promised complete transparency.
Now that the report covering the study’s first year is ready, the public is still waiting on pins and needles to get their hands on the study.
The ministry said on Thursday, that the report’s findings need to be analyzed by a committee made up of officials from two ministries (Environmental Protection and Health), as well as academic and health institutions before it can be made public. However, they did not say exactly how long the analysis will take. MK Dov Henin and MK Yael Cohen Paran both demanded that the report be made public immediately.
Henin said on Thursday that residents of the Haifa area “are worried, and rightly so, about the lack of transparency... people have the right to know the truth about the air they are breathing.”
Cohen Paran said that “it seems [Health Minister Ya’acov] Litzman and [Environmental Protection Minister] Gabbay are scared of the report’s findings.” She accused officials of trying to “blur” any signs of direct links between industrial pollution and illness in the area, even though “this study belongs to the public and is for the public.”
Liora Amitai, director of Citizens for the Environment, said that she has kept an eye on the study process since it began and has felt worried about ulterior motives that could be at play. “Since the very beginning, we were concerned that the researchers’ real information wouldn’t make it to the public,” she said. “Too many special interests are involved in this study and they are working hard to attempt to prevent its publication.” Amitai added that while she has complete faith in the researchers and their methods, she “does not trust the government officials who were entrusted with the information.”
In response, officials from the Environmental Protection Ministry told The Jerusalem Post’s sister paper Maariv on Thursday evening that the delay in publication of the study is just part of the work process between the two ministries, “and nothing more.”
“Those attacking the Health and Environmental Protection ministries know that we do not have special interests to hide from the public,” they said. The sources added that the report will be published “once the data have been understood and verified to its fullest,” and said that the government has maintained transparency at every stage of the process.