Boy watches as mom is fitted for a gas mask 311 (R).
(photo credit: Jim Hollander / Reuters)
Environmental activists launched a “Haifa Gulf War” on Wednesday morning outside
the city’s municipal court, where a judge was leading a discussion about the
municipality’s lawsuit against the operators of an ammonia tank in the
The activists, predominantly from the Green Course movement and the
Coalition for Public Health, held signs projecting their anger that a Haifa
Chemicals ammonia tank is still sitting in the bay, putting the public at
constant risk of exposure to toxins.
While ammonia is necessary to many
household and industrial cooling processes, the environmentalists argued that
the tank must move to an unpopulated place, where a leak would not cause so many
residents to be in instant danger.
Cloaked in a gas masks and protective
wear, one activist held as sign that read: “I am already protected from ammonia.
And you?” During the morning’s discussion, the judge heeded the request of the
Haifa Chemicals lawyer to postpone making a decision for two more months, which
she said would also allow more time to assess evidence about the container’s
safety risks, according to Green Course. The two sides will meet with the judge
again on May 9.
While it would be difficult to ignore the statements of
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and Industry, Trade and Labor
Minister Shalom Simhon, the court must decide about the container’s removal on
the basis of hard evidence only, the judge said during the hearing.
hearing took place symbolically on the day of the Fast of Esther, and
representatives of Green Course demonstrated under the slogan of ‘Gulf War,’
which became the official name of the campaign for their struggle to remove
hazardous substances from the Haifa Bay,” a statement from Green Course
Green Course members were not pleased with the judge’s decision to
delay the process another two months.
“We’re very disappointed because we
hoped that the judge would decide today based on the decisions made by
government officials like Gilad Erdan and Shalom Simhon,” Aviv Zalts, spokesman
for Green Course Haifa, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday
Acknowledging that ammonia is very important to many
industries, Zalts explained that if a spill does occur then “it will cause
sudden death to whoever is close to the leak” and will burn the skin of many
others in the surrounding area.
“It’s a very, very toxic material and it
shouldn’t be around so many people that live around Haifa where so many people
are,” he said.
A better place, which has already been recommended by
government officials, would be an open area in the middle of the Negev that is
not so densely populated, according to Zalts.
The jointly led Green
Course and Haifa Municipality struggle received additional support last week
from Erdan and Simhon, both of whom argued that the ammonia container must be
removed from Haifa’s harbor. After a meeting together, the ministers decided
that they must find a quick solution for this issue, and that while ammonia is
critical to cooling processes, the risks of leaving the tank in Haifa were too
“The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry will work in cooperation
with the Environmental Protection Ministry to find a proper layout that will
match the industrial needs on one hand, and environmental and safety components
on the other hand,” Simhon said.
“The importance today of an
environmentally friendly industry is clear to us.”
While the ammonia tank
is actually similar to those in other developed countries, in terms of its size
and proximity to population centers, Israel has certain security threats that
these other nations do not have, the ministers decided, ultimately concluding
that the container must move. Erdan referred back to the Second Lebanon War and
reiterated the need to make sure hazardous materials are safe from war,
hostilities, earthquakes and other incidents.
“Operations of the ammonia
container cannot come at the expense of public safety,” Erdan said. “I will
continue to promote policies of removing hazardous industrial plants from nearby
residential areas, thereby enabling proper functioning of the factories while
minimizing risk to the population.”
Despite Wednesday’s delay, Zalts said
he was confident that the judge would eventually make a decision in the
“The more time the more danger, but we think
that at the end the court will decide to get it out of there,” he said.