Fires from oil refineries in Haifa.
(photo credit: ILAN MILSTER - MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION)
The Haifa Bay area maintains its status as one of the country’s largest environmental pollution regions, with little to no change in its air quality during the past four years, the state comptroller reported on Monday.
The rate of morbidity in the area for certain diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and asthma among children is higher than the national average. As reported by the comptroller in 2014, cancer rates in the area were 15% higher than the national average and asthma among children was twice the national average.
Five years later, these figures have not improved.
Intensive industrial facilities such as refineries, fuel storage, chemical and petrochemical plants and infrastructure such as the port, airport and power station, are responsible for the pollution and health impact in the area, mostly due to their close proximity to population centers.
Air pollution is one of the most serious environmental hazards affecting public health, quality of life and the environment, causing diseases such as heart failure, strokes, asthma, chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution can reduce overall life expectancy. According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, the cost of health and environmental damage caused by economical activities stood at NIS 31.5 billion, NIS 13.5 billion (43%) of which was due to air pollution.
“Many years after raising the need to deepen the research and formulate a complete and updated health database, and three years since the government’s decision on the matter, practically nothing has changed,” the report read. One of the reasons revealed by the report was that the data are still lacking for decision-makers to efficiently approach the issue.
The Environmental Protection Ministry is the governmental body responsible for preventing pollution and environmental risks. The Health Ministry bears responsibility for ensuring the population’s health and is, therefore, the body responsible for determining policies, planning, supervising, controlling and issuing licenses in coordination with the health system.
Other findings of the report that explain the deteriorating environmental and public health situation in the area include technological limitations in monitoring and sampling pollutants. Due to deficiencies in these systems, a significant number of pollutants remain undetected and beyond the warning capabilities of monitoring system, such as faulty systems on the chimneys of industrial plants.
According to the report, the Environmental Protection Ministry is unable to obtain a reliable and accurate picture of the emitted pollutants. In addition, most plants in the area failed to comply with the requirements of the chimney monitoring procedure. The staggering figures in the report show that most industrial plants worked in violation of the Health Ministry’s monitoring procedure; a third of the chimneys did not even collect pollutant samples.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Ministry received backlash in the report, given the little administrative enforcement and almost complete lack of issuing administrative sanctions to polluting companies that have breached the protocol. The ministry responded that air quality in the Haifa Bay is no different from other metropolitan areas in Israel and that the ministry has invested NIS 100 million in the implementation of the National Program for reducing air pollution in the area, having recorded a reduction of 56% of volatile organic pollutant emissions. Furthermore, the ministry rebutted the report’s claims concerning the lack of monitoring and issuing sanctions, adding that 42 orders and 6 financial sanctions were issued, totaling NIS 9.8 million.
The handling of hazardous materials, which can have an immeasurable and irreversible environmental impact given the relatively small size of the bay area, and the nature of many substances being transported and stored, remains a vague issue according to the report. The types of potential environmental disasters include accidents during production, transportation or storage of materials, natural disasters and hostile terrorist activities.
To date, the Environmental Protection Ministry has yet to produce an aggregate risk survey on the matter. The ministry responded that the criticism is in fact valid, adding that the complexity and the innovative methodology are responsible for the delayed publication.
The danger of a chain event, which may cause considerable harm to the health of residents, was stressed multiple times in the report, emphasizing the vulnerability of the present infrastructure. Lack of preparedness of responsible bodies to prevent and/or deal with the consequences of such accidents was also pointed out. The Firefighters and Rescue Authority, for example, was deemed unprepared due to gaps in manpower and means.
The report finally posed the question of whether industrial plants should be moved altogether or left in the area, in whole or in part. Several basic assumptions are expected to be tested, according to the report, to evaluate the best solution for the area. The lack of activity, supervision and promptness from the Environmental Protection Ministry, however, remained one of the core problems for approaching the problem effectively.
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