The relevant authorities must urgently find a solution to the severe pollution problem that has plagued Jerusalem’s central bus station for years, the chairman of the Knesset State Control Committee, Amnon Cohen (Shas), stressed on Wednesday.
Cohen said that everyone must recognize that this is a problematic enclosed space, filled with poisonous gases.
While failing to find a solution for the issue, Israel also ends up needing to invest in added medical treatments associated with treated pollution-related illnesses, he continued.
“Give a service without diseases,” Cohen said to the representatives of the central bus station at Wednesday morning’s committee meeting. “Make money, but not at the expense of public health.”
In response, Noam Ronen, an attorney representing the bus station and its owner company, Nitsba Holdings, said he feels the lack of arrival toward a solution is due to “a systemic problem.” All of the government officials involved with planning the station, which opened in 2001, “decided in the 1990s to build a central bus station in Jerusalem in this location in a closed building.”
“Why a closed building, you ask me? Good question,” Ronen continued. “It’s an issue of environmental quality.”
Ronen then brought up the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, opened in 1993, where the bus arrival platform is an open-air area rather than an enclosed space like that of Jerusalem.
However, he explained, the people in the surrounding area in Tel Aviv suffer from the pollution emanating from these buses due to this very open design, he said.
Although there are new demands for handling air pollution today, the question remains “how to implement the new requirements in a building that is already existing and operating,” Ronen added.
Shoni Goldberg, director of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Jerusalem branch, confirmed that his ministry has determined that the pollution levels at the station are “very, very high” and that the public is being regularly exposed to the contaminants.
As part of the conditions to continue their business license, the owners of the bus station are required to stop the ongoing pollution, he explained.
For their part, the managers of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station said they are constantly developing new means of reducing both the pollution and the passengers’ exposure to it.
One new mechanism that the bus station is employing right now is an automatic locking system, which locks the doors between the inner station and the bus platform, disabling the exit of passengers and curbing the passage of emissions inside, explained Tzvi Katz, the CEO of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station.
On October 2, The Environmental Protection Ministry, in consultation with the Health Ministry, officially declared the Jerusalem Central Bus Station boarding area an excessively polluted space and an endangerment to public health.
The amounts of nitrogen oxides and respirable particles present due to the exhaust fumes violate the Clean Air Law, the ministry said.
The ministry issued a public warning to bus travelers stressing that they should not spend more time than necessary in the station’s bus terminals.
Exposure to the pollutants emitted by the buses within the confines of the station can trigger short-term responses such as burning eyes, nose and throat, as well as difficult breathing, headaches and vomiting, the ministry explained.
Long-term exposure could trigger respiratory illnesses such as asthma attacks and acute or chronic bronchitis, the ministry added.
Last year, the building received a NIS 708,224 fine for air pollution, but the issue has remained stuck in courts. In September 2011, the Environmental Protection Ministry ordered the central bus station to completely separate the bus platform and the building’s interior due to high pollution levels.
During the months that preceded this declaration, the ministry found, in more than half of its samples in the building, concentrations of harmful substances – like ozone, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter – that exceeded acceptable air pollution levels by four or five times.
At the conclusion of Wednesday’s State Control Committee meeting, Cohen ultimately called upon the transportation, environmental protection and health ministers to work together to urgently find a comprehensive, long-term solution to a problem that is affecting the health of so many residents and tourists.Judy Siegel contributed to this report.