air pollution 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Beit Shemesh and Gush Etzion have the highest frequency of ozone pollution, a study obtained by The Jerusalem Post shows.
Throughout 2006, the Environment Protection Ministry ran checks in nine cities. Gush Etzion and Beit Shemesh had 260 and 179 days, respectively, in which the pollutant exceeded the WHO's limit.
Elevated ozone levels were found most frequently in relatively rural areas, while they remained low in larger cities; Jerusalem saw only 45 days of elevated ozone levels last year.
"The rural places are often the worst because the wind carries the pollutants to high mountains or places with high [levels of] solar radiation," Avi Moshel, deputy head of the ministry's Air Quality division, told the Post.
Natural ozone particles are a principle component of the ozone layer, which acts as the Earth's natural sunscreen. When they are found closer to the ground and enter the air we breathe in levels exceeding the World Health Organization's recommendations, however, they are toxic and can cause respiratory failure, stroke and a 3-5% hike in mortality rates.
At ground level, ozone particles are pollutants created when industrial and automotive fumes interact with sunlight and air.
The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'din) also said pollutants created in cities and their adjoining industrial zones took time to become ozone, and that during this process they could drift far from their point of origin.
The nation's air quality is actually worse than these recent findings show, as the data do not include the heavily industrialized Haifa area, Tzipi Iser Itzik, the Union for Environmental Defense's executive director, told the Post.
"We think that the current standards do not protect our health sufficiently," Itzik said, adding that her organization was working with the Environment Protection Ministry to pass a clean air law. "It actually pays to pollute in Israel right now," she said.
The ministry's Moshel said his department was working to remedy the problem, which he described as "very severe."
He said Haifa was covered by a separate monitoring system that was not included by this most recent air quality survey.
"We are always striving to prevent emissions from factories... We are reducing the pollutant levels emitted by vehicles by strengthening the rules for new vehicles and by strengthening their emissions testing policies," said Moshel, adding that 2006 had been a year of rigorous automotive emissions testing.
Moshel also said his department hoped to implement technological improvements at gas stations to prevent fumes from escaping into the atmosphere when vehicles' tanks are filled.