Ramat Hovav 298.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Serious flaws in the handling of the last month's explosion in Ramat Hovav could have put thousands of lives at risk, according to an independent investigation.
Human rights and environmental organizations on Monday released an interim report that investigated the August 13 incident at the Makhteshim Chemical Works plant and its aftermath, in which eight employees were hospitalized.
The explosion occurred in a reactor that contained the insecticide Suprathion, a potentially lethal organic-phosphoric substance that spread out one kilometer from the factory site.
The chemical reached the outskirts of the unrecognized Beduin village of Wadi el-Na'am, which has a population of 5,000, including almost 1,800 children.
The findings were largely based on eye witness testimony from Beduin villagers.
The report, entitled "Living on the Edge," was prepared by representatives of The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Bimkom - Planners for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, Shatil, the Committee to Advance the Village of Wadi el-Na'am, and Magama Yeruka - Students for the Environment.
According to the report, "Even though the danger was known, and despite the many warnings regarding the need to establish a system of measures to protect the villagers, the state authorities did not take the necessary measures."
In response, Environment Ministry spokesman Moshe Dayan told The Jerusalem Post, "The claims raised in the report are inaccurate."
The explosion occurred close to midnight and its consequences lasted about 90 minutes. Environment Minister Gideon Ezra immediately ordered the ministry to investigate the incident and submit an interim report within 24 hours.
According to an interim conclusion by Yossi Inbar, the ministry's deputy director-general, "All the emergency forces operated according to the program for handling dangerous materials."
The authors of the report did not agree. According to their findings, it took 15 minutes following the explosion, which the villagers heard and smelled, for the police to let some of them know what had happened.
There is no siren in the village or other means to provide immediate warning of danger despite the village's proximity to Ramat Hovav.
There are conflicting reports from the authorities regarding the extent of the evacuation and even how many buses were dispatched to evacuate the local residents.
"On the basis of testimony," the report concluded, "most of the village neighborhoods were not evacuated. Furthermore, there was virtually no contact between the residents (except for a few) and the authorities throughout the incident."
The report sharply criticized the authorities for failing, until now, to conduct a serious investigation of the incident and its effect on those living in the danger zone near Ramat Hovav.