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Air pollution levels in the Haifa Bay area reached hazardous levels on Wednesday night as smoke from burning tires and plastic reacted with exhaust from the Frutarom flavors and fragrances factory, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry.
Following complaints by residents of the eastern Haifa Bay area, the ministry opened an investigation to locate the source of a strong chemical odor coming from the bay.
Residents of Kiryat Bialik, Nufit, Kiryat Ata and Kiryat Tivon began sensing the harsh odor shortly before 8 p.m. It was soon followed by a burning sensation in their eyes and throats.
By Thursday morning, the odor had largely dissipated.
Dr. Bernanda Flicstein, deputy director-general of Haifa district's Municipal Association for the Environment, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday the pollution was largely caused by the incineration of tires, cables, mattresses and other items containing plastic and metal.
"We received dozens of phone calls from residents in the area who reported on a strange, heavy and sweet smell in the air. Our inspectors went out, checked the source of the complaints and took samples. They found that there was a large fire on Wednesday evening at the Big junction, at the entrance to Kiryat Ata. Someone simply burned a large amount of garbage in an attempt to get rid of the plastic covers on the metal, which he planned to sell.
"These highly polluting fires are not uncommon," said Flicstein, "and they release even more pollution than the chemical factories."
Robert Reuven, director of the Environmental Protection Ministry's Haifa district office, said a reaction between the exceptionally large fire and pollutants from the Frutarom factory probably caused the odor, which was then spread by strong western winds.
Reuven said he had summoned the factory's manager to a hearing and that he intended to open legal proceedings against the company and its management.
The Frutarom company said in response: "During the investigation of the incident a representative of the Environmental Protection Ministry visited our plant in Haifa. No unusual source for the smell was detected. The Frutarom company works in accordance with the Environmental Protection Ministry and follows its instructions."