Sixteen industrial plants which underwent multiple spot checks in 2005 exceeded the pollution emission standards set by the state, according to a recently released Environment Ministry report.
The ministry's Air Quality Division conducted 155 checks for the project. According to Aviva Trachtman of the division, five industrial plants are currently in early court procedures since they exceeded the maximum emission limits.
One way the ministry checks an industrial plant is by checking for the presence of a specific pollutant, like carbon dioxide, in samples taken from a stack at the plant. Other pollutants may turn up during the sampling. If they do, they are also taken into account when a report is written.
"If it's the first time [that a plant has exceeded the emission standard] they get a letter demanding they comply with the standard," Trachtman said in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post. "Usually we try to reach a decision with the company to take the necessary steps to lower the emissions."
If the company continues to fail to comply with the standards, however, the ministry opens an investigation which could eventually move to court. A company in the Haifa area had to pay a fine of NIS 300,000 as a consequence of non-compliance.
"I think maybe it [the fine] is not enough, but in time there's more consciousness of the consequences" said Trachtman.
Dr. Arye Wanger from the scientific department of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense said the ministry does "too little, too late. It could enforce the law in a more efficient and effective way." He also said that many of the plants showed a pattern of exceeding the emission standards over the past several years.
In a press release, Environment Minister Gideon Ezra said the ministry would not hesitate to take action against polluting plants. Haifa Chemicals was one of the companies with an industrial plant which had surpassed the emission standard.
Eytan Loewenstein, the spokesperson for Haifa Chemicals, said the problem at the time was a missing part in the production process. It took several months to resolve the issue because the part was not available in Israel and had to be ordered from abroad. Since the repair was made, Loewenstein said, the company had obeyed the set standard.
The plant which had exceeded the legal limits is located about 30 minutes outside of Dimona, where other companies have built industrial plants. The report released by the ministry said all six of the plants checked in the Southern region exceeded the standard.
The ministry is also working on passing a new Clean Air Law, similar to the 1990 Clean Air Act in the United States.
The bill would oblige the different ministries who work together in this field to communicate better with each other, clearly set the responsibilities of the different bodies involved and bring the different available legal tools together in one law.