(photo credit: Associated Press)
Environmental health experts are concerned about the health dangers posed by asbestos pieces and microscopic fibers released into the air by exploding Katyusha rockets in the Western Galilee during the recent war. At present, the asbestos chunks are lying all over the North.
This asbestos waste must be buried quickly and properly in the North rather than being transported south to the Ramat Hovav waste disposal facility near Beersheba, as the carcinogenic fibers would spread through the country during transport, advises a leading expert in environmental health, Professor Elihu Richter.
Richter has retired after 35 years at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health in Jerusalem, where he led hundreds of students in research projects as head of the school's occupational and environmental medicine unit.
He addressed the conference on Environmental Pollution and Your Health, organized by Hadassah Israel and Hadassah College Jerusalem, which was held Wednesday at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem.
Richter noted that the pieces of asbestos roofing, pipes and other construction materials used by residents, disintegrated when the rockets exploded and constitute a ever-present health danger because the microscopic fibers will never disappear from the environment.
But, he said, they can be disposed of safely through burial in a concrete-lined tomb and can be covered over with land and used for any purpose.
Asbestos is thus unlike toxic chemicals such as those used by military industries factories or radioactive waste. There are enough experts who know what to do with the asbestos, but the various authorities are currently arguing about who should pay for its disposal.
"There is no safe exposure to asbestos," he said, noting that he was invited to India to lecture on Israel's mistakes decades ago in the use of asbestos for construction purposes. Not only were those working in factories using asbestos endangered, but so were their families, as the particles stuck to their clothing when they went home.
After the health dangers of asbestos were exposed in Israel more than a quarter center ago, public demand for it dropped and asbestos factories closed. But the products remained in various parts of the country, and the Hizbullah missile attacks awoke these "sleeping dogs."
The problem, Richter said, "is real, even though the industry no longer exists."