Expert deems J'lem Central Bus Station a ‘sick building'

"Workers subject to long-term diseases from air pollution."

By MELANIE LIDMAN
September 27, 2011 06:43
4 minute read.
Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station

Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station 311. (photo credit: Michael Melech)

After the Environmental Protection Ministry ordered the Jerusalem Central Bus Station on Sunday to completely separate the bus platform and the building’s interior due to high pollution levels, an expert deemed the ministry’s conclusion serious – one that has been identified for quite a long time but has gone largely ignored by government bodies.

“It’s obvious and it happened many, many times before, but now we have the smoking gun,” Prof. Menachem Luria, a professor of industrial hygiene at Hebrew University’s Earth Sciences Institute, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night.

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“The only thing green about these buses is the color of the bus.

It’s been years now that we’ve been saying buses are polluting more than private cars.”

Examining data taken by its mobile measuring stations over the past couple months, the Environmental Protection Ministry found that in more than half of its samples, concentrations of harmful substances – ozone, sulfur dioxides, nitrous oxides and particulate matter – in the air were four or five times greater than acceptable levels.

In one instance, the ministry found that the air contained 17 times more nitrous oxides than acceptable, and even at night, when buses weren’t running, concentrations were often three times the standard level, according to the report.

The problem stems predominantly from the lack of ventilation in the areas where passengers board the buses, and the ministry has received many complaints from the public about the air quality in the station, the study said. The levels of toxic gases emitted from the buses and into the building is “very high,” particularly for people with lengthy, ongoing exposure, such as workers in the mall or the offices above, according to Luria.

“If you just walk through for just a few minutes, it’s bad, but it’s not as bad as it is for people who work in those compounds,” he said.

“The result of air pollution exposure is not immediate – it’s statistical, it takes time,” Luria continued.

“They are subject to many diseases and in the long-term, it’s life threatening.”

Calling the entire building itself “a sick building,” Luria blamed Egged entirely for the dangerous conditions there.

“Egged is fully responsible for using buses with poor pollution technology,” he said.

“The building is valuable for business because there are many people who come in – it’s good for business but not good for health.”

The company that built and runs the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, Nitzba, refused multiple requests for comment. Nitzba, which used to be a branch of Egged before privatizing, also built the Beersheba and Ashdod central bus stations.

According to Globes, there are 7,000 square meters of commercial space in the first three floors of the building and 8,000 square meters of office space in the top four floors of the building.

For years, Luria said he has heard complaints from people working in the building demanding dramatic improvements that never occurred, leading many to vacate the premises.

While the ministry’s report focused only on the situation at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, Luria said that this bus station is by no means the only one in Israel wreaking atmospheric havoc on those who frequent the building.

“The Tel Aviv Central Bus Station has a much larger volume and more buses and could have more pollution,” Luria said.

But as for the Jerusalem building, the Environmental Protection Ministry deemed that a physical barrier – such as an extra set of doors between the interior mall and the area where passengers board the buses – would significantly improve the air quality inside, according to the report.

While praising the fact that the ministry was taking action against Egged in an effort to improve conditions, Luria criticized the specific route that the ministry ordered the company to take.

“They’re just separating the problem into two different zones,” Luria said, stressing that the pollution, in fact, will still be there this way.

There are simple, yet expensive ways that Egged could improve the cleanliness of its diesel fuel buses, he explained, encouraging the bus company “to put better pollution control technology on the buses” – devices and filters that cut noxious emissions.

“The European standards are very clear about it, but it’s just that nobody is imposing it,” Luria said.

“The technology for pollution control for diesel buses is advanced but here, there is not enough pressure on Egged to do much about it; they just paint their buses green.”

In the future, however, abandoning the diesel completely would be the best case scenario, and Luria suggested making use of overhead electricity – as the light rail uses – to power the buses, which is done in many cities across the world, like Shanghai, San Francisco and Vancouver – the last of which he called “fully electric.”

“We know that air pollution kills,” Luria said. “It’s not an instant killer but it kills.”


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