The Coalition for Public Health charged that the government was not doing enough to actively fight against air pollution, in a new report released by the organization on Sunday.
The coalition argued for a stricter policy to be based on the "precautionary principle," with a specific emphasis on what is best for children.
The report, entitled "Seeing those to be born: What is known about air pollution and children's illnesses?" surveyed studies both within Israel and abroad which found a causal link between air pollution and pulmonary diseases, cancer and decreased lung capacity among children.
In general, European cities had dangerously high pollution levels, and Israeli cities were worse, the authors wrote. The report focused especially on the Haifa Port area as one of the most polluted areas in Israel.
Much of the report was based on a 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) report whose authors spent two years collecting studies about air pollution and diseases.
Whereas earlier studies had a harder time proving any connection between air pollution and children's illnesses, more recent studies have generated statistical proof. In some areas of the world, children's chances of developing cancer were doubled by living in proximity to highly polluting factories or power stations.
While the report focused on children, there were also risks to adults as well, the organization noted. Children were especially susceptible to pollution because their lungs, nervous system and brain were all developing.
Children also breathed in 20-50% more air when playing outside than adults, spent more time in general outside, and were apt to be unable to recognize warning signs during highly polluted days like headaches and shortness of breath - signs that would drive adults indoors and out of the pollution.
In Israel, for instance, children in the Haifa area were hospitalized more often than children in other areas of the country, especially for asthma-related incidents. Another study of pupils in Hadera found a 10% decrease in lung functioning, even when pollution levels complied with Israeli standards.
The report was aimed at providing a potent tool for decision-makers, showing the need for a more cautionary approach and a tightening of standards and enforcement. Several specific areas needed to be vastly improved, the authors wrote.
They urged the government to adopt the "precautionary principle" in all policy decisions. Even if there was only a suspicion that certain elements would cause damage if emitted, then preventive steps should be taken. There was nothing more sacred or more fundamental than the health of the next generation, they wrote.
They also called on the government to use all of the available tools to enforce decisions, not to allow more pollution sources into high risk areas, better monitoring and promoting natural gas to replace the oil that the factories are forced to burn now in the Haifa Port area.
The report noted that half of all pollution in the report was caused by oil refineries and the power plants. A natural gas pipeline has been stalled for months, forcing the factories to continue to burn highly polluting oil to produce electricity.
The coalition also joined its voice to other environmental groups who continually demand better pollution reduction technology, serious emphasis on public transportation, and emergency pollution reduction in the Haifa Port area.
Finally, epidemiological studies of the entire population, and especially children, should be carried out, the authors wrote.
In addition, a national environmental health unit should be established to tackle the issue from a health perspective and not just a pollution perspective.
The authors noted that the Clean Air Act, set to go into effect in 2011, does not make specific mention of the effect of pollution on children, whereas, in other countries, standards are set to specifically protect them.