Toxic waste sites, clean air are hottest issues

Adam Teva V’Din: Legislation for contaminated sites must be approved, Clean Air Law must be implemented properly.

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November 25, 2011 04:07
4 minute read.
Hazardous waste [illustrative]

Hazardous waste 311. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

 
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For green advocacy giant Adam Teva V’Din (the Israel Union for Environmental Defense), the most pressing environmental issues of 2012 will be cleaning up contaminated waste sites and minimizing air pollution, the organization’s directors told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“Our main focus will be about hazardous materials, toxic materials, and also about clean air,” executive director Amit Bracha said.

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In the realm of toxic waste sites, the environmental organization will be focusing its efforts on stopping the impending development of a new neighborhood in “Taas City,” a former Israel Military Industries complex in the nation’s Center, and will be monitoring the clean-up work being performed on a similar site in Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem neighborhood.

Meanwhile, although the Clean Air Law – originally drafted by Adam Teva V’Din – was officially passed in 2008, the government didn’t formally enact it until this January. In the coming months, the green group will be pushing for its further implementation across the country.

“We are just building up our clean air watch team, which is supposed to see that the implementation is being done correctly,” Bracha said. “We are very much afraid that... the regulations won’t be implemented as they should be.”

For nearly a decade, according to development director Fran Ran, the law-in-the-making has been Adam Teva V’Din’s “baby.” It came about with the help of US Congressman Henry Waxman, whom Bracha called the “father” of the American Clean Air Law.

“It may have been tough, but it has paid off,” Ran said, noting that creating the law had required uniting many small things that were once part of different authorities, under the umbrella of the Environment Ministry.



“It made [the government] acknowledge that we were a very respected and powerful force and that it was better for us to be partners,” she said.

In the coming year, Bracha said, the organization would be checking to see that companies and industries were actually complying with the Clean Air Law’s protocols.

“We’ve got to be the watchdog on air and make sure that the Clean Air Law is implemented properly,” Ran added.

Meanwhile, the group will also be focusing on getting new regulations for transportation emissions on the table, she said.

Unlike the clean air issue, an initiative against contaminated sites has yet to pass into law, and a bill is currently awaiting second and third Knesset readings after passing a first reading this August.

Aside from providing a framework for toxic site cleanup, the bill suggests that financial incentive be provided to builders interested in developing – and cleaning – the areas, Ran explained.

“There are... more than 3,000 contaminated sites in Israel – contaminated from industry work, army work and from factories, of course,” Bracha said.

“So a lot of toxic materials are underground in the soil and the groundwater. Throughout the years, we’ve taken a lot of legal action against the state, saying that the state has the responsibility because they are the ones who run the place and do the work, mostly through the army industry.”

But after seeing that the legal action was insufficient, Adam Teva V’Din decided that there needed to be a policy overhaul – legislation that would change contaminated sites systematically through a “polluter pays” principle, Bracha explained.

On the group’s upcoming agenda are two major sites, the first of which is a planned development on former Taas Israel Military Industries land, which includes portions of Herzliya, Ramat Hasharon and Hod Hasharon, according to Bracha.

“The new plans for building new neighborhoods should take into account that the sites are contaminated and there shouldn’t be any development until a cleanup is made,” he said.

The 13 industrial sites there – most of which opened in the 1950s and closed down in the past five years, though a couple are still open – poured contaminants into the ground that could be potentially dangerous for future inhabitants if not eradicated, he and Ran explained.

“There hasn’t been a comprehensive environmental survey to show what’s in the soil or what’s in the water,” Ran said.

“You could have a situation where there could be a development of 2,000 houses and 50 meters away there could be severely contaminated land and no one knows what’s in it.”

However, a few weeks ago, the National Planning Council authorized the plans – a decision that Adam Teva V’Din and local activists intend to combat formally in the near future, according to Bracha.

“Israel is the size of New Jersey – it’s terrible when you think about all those brown fields,” he said, calling the fenced-off Taas area “one big brown field.”

But Taas is hardly the only “brown” zone on the organization’s mind.

“The other one is Beit Hakerem, where we managed to stop the development there,” he said. “They are just now starting to do the cleanup.”

Six years ago, Adam Teva V’Din, along with local residents, stopped a development from going up in the valley between Beit Hakerem and Givat Ram, where the groups argued that the soil was filled with toxic chemicals due to a munitions plant located there.

As a result of that battle, Bracha said that the Water Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry were now cleaning up the area – a job that the group intends to continue monitoring.

“We are not against development,” he said. “When you clean up and develop [a formerly contaminated area], you don’t damage other open spaces in Israel... but you need to clean it up first.”

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