'Asbestos producer must pay for half Galilee cleanup'

High Court charges Etanit company with up to NIS 150m. to supplement clean up of industrial waste in private and public sectors.

Minister Gilad Erdan 370 (photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
Minister Gilad Erdan 370
(photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
Ruling against the appeal of a former asbestos production firm, the High Court of Justice decided on Tuesday that the Etanit company will remain responsible for half the cost of cleanup of the dangerous chemical in the Western Galilee.
“This is a precedent-setting ruling and groundbreaking toward everything that touches upon responsibility of the manufacturer,” said Amit Bracha, executive director of Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense).
“There is no doubt that the High Court’s decision serves the public interest.”
Soon after the Asbestos Hazards Prevention Law passed in its second and third Knesset readings in April 2011, the Environmental Protection Ministry began implementing a plan for asbestos cleanup in the Western Galilee. The ministry’s initial budget was NIS 20 million, but the office estimated at the time that the project would demand a total of NIS 300m. throughout its five-year duration.
The Etanit company, whose factory produced asbestos building products on the northern Nahariya coast from 1953 through 1997, would be charged with bearing half the cost of the cleanup – up to the sum of NIS 150m., according to the ministry.
The new law banned the use of any type of asbestos while also phasing out the existing presence of asbestos inside industrial and public buildings within 10 years time, and inside IDF facilities within seven years, ministry information said.
For the Western Galilee cleanup project, the program would involve evacuating asbestos from public spaces, and later from private ones.
The asbestos industrial waste that originated from the Etanit factory was scattered over approximately 150,000 cubic meters of land, with some also intermixed in the region’s roads and paths, ministry data reported. Now crumbling with old age, these paths were exposing asbestos to the surface and the air.
About a year after the law passed and the evacuation project began, thenenvironmental protection minister Gilad Erdan visited the cleanup site and deemed the asbestos removal so important that he decided to double the ministry’s contribution to NIS 40m.
“Every day that we advance the project, a human life is saved,” Erdan said in a statement in April 2012. “We doubled the budget designated for this year in order to double the pace of executing the hazard’s removal.”
At the time, Erdan had also requested that Etanit co-owner Mickey Federman – who also owns the Dan hotel chain – remove his petition to the High Court and abide by the asbestos law, but the petition remained in place.
In the latest ruling against Etanit, the judges also decided that the company must reimburse Adam Teva V’Din NIS 70,000 for its legal expenses in fighting against the appeal, the environmental advocacy group said. The more than 50- page ruling deems the manufacturer responsible for dealing with the cleanup and justifies the right to impose the financial burden on the firm, according to Adam Teva V’Din. Referring to the unjust danger placed upon vulnerable citizens through asbestos exposure, the ruling calls the scattered chemical a “ticking health bomb.”
Keren Halperin, director of Adam Teva V’Din’s legal department, welcomed the decision of the court.
“After extended action that began in creating awareness of the asbestos problem in the Western Galilee and continued with the local struggles and with the promotion of comprehensive legislation to remove asbestos, [this decision will] allow residents and visitors of the Western Galilee to enjoy a healthy and fitting environment that does not endanger their health on a daily basis,” Halperin said.