(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The responses at a special session on Haifa pollution on Sunday were to be expected.
Government representatives said it is too early to tell if there is a direct correlation between pollution and health problems in Haifa, while everyone else criticized them for not doing enough over the years.
One thing stood out, however: a complete lack of order from politicians, environmentalists and civilians alike. The behavior was more befitting of a kindergarten than a government meeting as screaming, yelling, and interruptions filled the room at Haifa University where Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar presided over a special session to discuss the comptroller’s report on how the government was dealing with Haifa’s air pollution.
Elharar herself interrupted speakers several times in order to chastise others for interrupting.
The mood exemplified the stress that has come to the forefront since a leaked University of Haifa study indicated that exposure of pregnant women in the area to pollution from the petrochemical industry caused their babies to be born with heads 20 to 30 percent smaller than average. Causing more stress were Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threats to create a nuclear-style attack by targeting the city’s ammonia plant.
The point of the meeting was to raise serious questions with the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Health Ministry and the Haifa Municipality about how they were dealing with pollution in the area. No ministers showed up and the representatives that were present often avoid answering questions directly.
A representative from the Health Ministry said that his ministry’s responsibility was simply to collect and present data to other government authorities. Meanwhile, Nimrod Shein, who represented the Haifa Municipality, said that the city had tried many times to get the government to change their stance on factories and pollution in the area, but it fell on deaf ears. He also complained that he would like to get data from the government and not have to hear it from the media. He enraged the crowd, though, by saying, “The ones who decided to make the Haifa Bay an industrial zone were the British.”
Representing the Haifa district was deputy manager Nurit Shtorch, who repeated that the data was still too inconclusive to make a ruling on direct correlations between pollution and health problems. She said the city began dealing with factory emissions in 2010 and noted that since then, air pollution has gone down by 60 to 70 percent, with another 50% reduction expected by 2018.
However, she irked MKs and environmentalists when she repeatedly mentioned that part of the city’s pollution was caused by automobile emissions.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) criticized the mention of pollution from cars because that is something common in all cities and that “it is known that Haifa has excess pollution levels compared to the rest of the country.”
Directly after the meeting, Shtorch told The Jerusalem Post that although they are dealing with the pollution intensively, it takes several years to see the results and the situation is made all the more difficult because people are sick.
MK Oren Hazan won applause when he told the session that he is in favor of considering not only factory owners criminally liable for the area’s pollution, but would also include the entire Environmental Protection Ministry and its minister Avi Gabbay as responsible parties.
Regarding the city’s notorious 17,000-ton ammonia facility, which the state ordered to be moved out of Haifa by 2017, he also suggested an unusual solution.
“If someone wants to get a real answer on how dangerous the ammonia facility really is, I recommend moving it to Judea and Samaria, and then you’ll see all the human rights organizations shouting that the facility is endangering the poor Palestinians.”
Speaking more seriously, he then expressed hope that the meeting will be the catalyst to moving the ammonia plant out of Haifa and into an area that won’t pose a threat to human life.
“I have very strong criticism against the Northern District Committee and whoever you guys are representing,” he said. Turning his ire to Shtorch, he remarked, “I’m glad you’re busy on your phone instead of listening to what I’m saying.”
Yuval Hayo, representing the State Comptroller, said that the ministry will place more attention on Haifa’s pollution issue in the coming year, and criticized previous reports for being commissioned by factory owners themselves.
He also called on Gabbay to regularly provide updates on the ammonia plant’s move, a plan which a Ministry spokesperson recently said is being delayed due to high natural gas prices.