Environmental officials warned on Saturday that acidity levels were still problematically high, a day after an industrial wastewater spill struck a dry streambed in the Negev Desert.
The leakage into Nahal Ashalim came from the Rotem Afert Negev plant, an Israel Chemicals Ltd. fertilizer subsidiary located about 15 km. east of Dimona, on the border between the Negev and Judean deserts. As of late Saturday afternoon, Israel Nature and Parks Authority teams were working with the Environmental Protection Ministry, continuing to map the damage and take samples from the area.
Israel Chemicals first identified the spill at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, after workers found a hole in the eastern embankment of the Rotem Afert plaster pools, which allowed “plaster water” to leak into both pool #4 at the factory and part of Nahal Ashalim, the company said. Plant workers arrived quickly and stopped operations of the relevant facility and the sewage flow, the statement added.
On Saturday afternoon, the INPA said its teams were scanning areas along a 20-km. strip from the Mishor Rotem area to the Ashalim reservoir, which included numerous basins created by “the tremendous sewage flow.” The flow was so strong at times that water levels reached as high as 4 meters in some of the channels, the authority reported.
At the same time, inspectors were working to keep animals away from the water and prevent the entry of hikers, because the conditions could be very dangerous to them, the INPA warned. As of late afternoon, the authority said there was still considerable sewage flow in many of the streambed’s channels, as well as a large amount of foam and sludge forming in the very wide opening of the channel.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Ministry said it had ordered the Rotem Afert factory to cease pumping wastewater into its pools until the ministry is convinced that such an event would not reoccur.
“We estimate that we will complete the samples and measures in the field by the end of the day, and then we will be able to complete the mapping and estimate the initial damage in order to examine and plan with the rest of the authorities how to continue to handle the area from this point on,” Gilad Gabbai, director of the INPA’s southern region, said on Saturday.
“It is important to emphasize to travelers that they should not come to the area until further notice, because it could be very dangerous for them. We estimate that the rehabilitation in the field will take at least a few weeks.