The Dan Cities Municipal Waste Water Treatment Plant (Shaf-Dan) has told the Environment Ministry that it will be unable to meet a 2008 deadline for ceasing discharge of untreated sewage sludge into the Mediterranean Sea. Five hundred million tons of sludge will be dumped into the Mediterranean Sea this year. The majority of the sludge is discharged four kilometers off the coast of Tel Aviv by the Shaf-Dan, with permission from the Ministry of the Environment. The Ministry of the Environment, in accordance with the Barcelona Convention signed in 1976 by 24 countries bordering the Mediterranean, is working to end discharge of untreated municipal waste into the sea. The Shaf-Dan, as the only municipal waste factory discharging raw sewage into the sea, had been required to find a solution by 2008. They are now expected to request permission to dump into the sea until at least July 2009. The Shaf-Dan plans to build an incinerator to burn the sewage despite opposition from environmental organizations. The Shaf-Dan is currently in the process of applying for permits from the Ministry of the Environment for permission to build the incinerator. Etai Pinkas, appointed director of the Shaf-Dan, said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post that the incinerator is the "the most appropriate solution for the Shaf-Dan sludge." Amnon Liebermann, spokesman for the Shaf-Dan, expressed frustration with the delay. "We are working on detailed plans for a new time table," he said. "We had hoped to begin building [the incinerator] in the middle of July. Now it won't be ready until the end of 2009." Ron Amir, director of the Marine and Environmental Protection division of the Ministry of the Environment, said that the delay did not come as a surprise. "It was clear to everyone that if the incineration alternative is going to be carried out, it will take at least until 2009," he said. Zalul, an environmental organization best known for its successful campaign to end the use of fish cages in the Red Sea off the coast of Eilat, calls the project "unsustainable." The organization claims the incinerator will cause significant health risks to citizens near the proposed factory site in Rishon Lezion. Komar Roni, former directorgeneral of the Ministry of Environmen and consultant for Zalul, explained the opposition to the project in greater detail. "All the heavy metals that were previously being discharged into the sea will go up into the air," he said. "A person cannot refrain from breathing. If there is water pollution, you buy drinking water in bottles, or you do not go into the sea. With air pollution you can't defend yourself." The incinerator will cost â‚¬100 million to build. Zalul alleges the plan will cause an increase in taxes for the people living in the Dan region. "It is impossible to do this [build an incinerator] by 2008," said Sagit Rogenstein of Zalul. "We want the Ministry of the Environment to begin pushing the Shaf-Dan to an alternative solution to the incinerator." The Shaf-Dan meeting with the inter-ministerial committee coincided with the recent release of Zalul's report on the condition of the Mediterranean Sea and other waterways in Israel. The report detailed the "gloomy state" of seas and rivers in the country. According to the report issued by Zalul, while spikes in samples from bathing beaches showed increased amounts of fecal coliform bacteria in "concentrations exceeding the amount recommended in the proposed Ministry of Health standard [which sets threshold values of 400 coliforms per 100 ml.], it seems that overall the sanitary quality of the bathing water is good on an annual basis." These numbers spike monthly depending on how much pollution goes into the sea. Inbal Jacobs, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health, told the Post that "nobody" in Israel has ever fallen ill from swimming in the Mediterranean. Danny Levy, environmental consultant for Zalul, said in a press conference Wednesday morning that in addition to concerns about the Shaf-Dan discharge there is a "great need" to create national legislation for monitoring levels of bacterial waste from municipal sewage in the sea. "Most pollution is emitted from waste water treatment plants," said Levy. "What we think should be done to improve the situation is setting a standard, updating and enforcing it and allowing the public access to this data. "Israel needs to have a standard in accordance with Western standards," he continued. Bacteria originating from sewage sludge has caused 120 million cases of intestinal disease internationally, according to statistics from the World Health Organization, and 20 million cases of respiratory disease. "My division's target for the fifth year is now first and foremost to get the Shaf-Dan out of the sea," said Amir. "It is the primary target of my division. If I fail that to do by 2009, that is failure, total failure."