Punish polluters

It is possible to make it exorbitantly costly to put the lives of the population at risk.

September 29, 2007 20:45
3 minute read.
air pollution 88 298

air pollution 88 298. (photo credit: )


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In recent days, newspaper headlines have focused on a mysterious acrid odor that frequently spreads over the most unlikely of settings - the very pastoral Alroi section of Kiryat Tivon. The residents of Kiryat Tivon complain that whenever they smell whatever it is that descends upon their community, their eyes burn, throbbing headaches ensue and some suffer breathing difficulties and severe nausea. It gets worse after dusk, preventing many from venturing outdoors. The residents suspect a fuel storage facility, installed near Alroi half a century ago, is to blame. Enormous amounts of fuel are stored in gigantic containers only meters away from the neighborhood's outlying homes and very close to the Oranim Teaching College, with its large student body. The residents are clamoring for speedy government action, fearing that beyond the immediate symptoms, life-threatening long-term health hazards may be involved. But it's wishful thinking on their part to expect any speedy action. At best they will get sympathy. Everyone, including the Energy Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry, is "looking into the phenomenon." But as Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra explained to The Jerusalem Post last week, corporate polluters have little to fear from the authorities and no problem whatsoever paying the heaviest of the fines imposed on them. It's much more economical for them to cough up relatively paltry sums in fines than to clean up their act in earnest and make sure that no toxic emissions reach their hapless neighbors' nostrils and lungs. Ezra's budget is too puny to pay for expert analyses, investigations and follow-up prosecutions. In other words, the ministry is a paper tiger. The local authorities are worse. Even those which are solvent either pass the buck to the central government, or, as in the case of Kiryat Tivon, have no interest in jeopardizing the substantial income they receive from the companies within their jurisdictional limits. Kiryat Tivon derives NIS 13 million annually from fuel storage facilities. No city would rush to evict such valuable tenants. Ezra claimed that the upshot of the authorities' impotence is that there are more deaths in Tel Aviv alone each year from air pollution than the entire dreadful national road death statistics. Nor is air pollution the only environmental problem. There is increasingly disturbing data about the rate of disease incidence in certain localities, for which no ready explanation exists. Here too, morbidity may be rising due to environmental factors. The entire north of Israel shows greater incidence in certain cancers, heart and lung disease than do other parts of the country. This is the region in which the heaviest industry operates, crude oil is burned, oil refined, electricity generated, steel produced, metals recycled and chemicals used in a variety of manufacturing processes. The greatest problem centers in the Haifa Bay area. Cancer rates there are a whopping 20% higher than elsewhere, according to the Health Ministry. Deaths from these cancers are 8% above the national average. The densest industrial infrastructure is there as well. Some of the plants in and around Haifa are regarded as dangerous even by lenient standards and some are considered veritable environmental time bombs. It should be noted that the situation today is far better than in previous decades and that illnesses presented currently could have been caused by past pollutants. Nonetheless, what is immediately mandated are new emissions regulations for the most suspect plants. Some release harmful emissions at levels prohibited in Western Europe, for instance. At present, each plant operates according to deals it reached with the authorities. Strict and inflexible guidelines would compel manufacturers to gear themselves to the rules rather than have the rules accommodate them. This, additionally, would oblige industry to plan ahead with greater environmental concerns factored in. Next, enforcement of environmental laws must be made feasible by providing the budgetary wherewithal. Most of all, fines ought to be so heavy as to discourage industrialists from swallowing them as a tolerable business expense. It is possible, without imposing an unacceptable burden on the manufacturing industry, to make it exorbitantly costly to put the lives of the population at risk.

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