'Texas disaster shows ammonia tanker must move'

Ministers Erdan, Peretz call to expedite relocation of Haifa ammonia facility after blast at Texas fertilizer plant hurts hundreds.

Haifa Chemicals_311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haifa Chemicals_311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In light of the tragedy at a Texas fertilizer plant on Wednesday night, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz called on the government to urgently allocate the budget to move the Haifa ammonia facility to an unpopulated area in the South.
“Hazardous materials near populations are a ticking time bomb and it is our duty to invest the necessary funds and accelerate the separation of hazardous materials from population centers,” Erdan said.
While ammonia – a nitrogen and hydrogen combination – and fertilizer – typically a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – are different substances, government officials and environmental activists have long viewed the Haifa Chemicals ammonia tanker, located amid a large population center, as extremely dangerous.
The cabinet decided on March 1, 2012, to evacuate the ammonia facility to a southern location that is far from residential areas. Work at the Haifa site must cease by the beginning of 2017, according to the decision.
The March 2012 decision was prompted by arguments from then-environmental protection minister Erdan and then-industry, trade and labor minister Shalom Simhon.
In the aftermath of the Texas incident, Erdan stressed that that the government must take heed of the threat’s gravity and urgently allocate the budget required for the move, which has been delayed due to lack of funding.
Peretz has likewise made the ammonia facility move a top priority at the Environmental Protection Ministry, pointing out the dangers of the dangers of the facility’s location during a site visit two weeks ago.
“Every moment that passes and in which enormous quantities of ammonia are stored next to the public is a dangerous moment,” Peretz said.
“We must look at the explosion in Texas as a warning light and not accept the continued existence of the container in Haifa Bay.”
Peretz stressed that the government must act urgently to move the tanker, and following a request of the Environmental Protection Ministry, a discussion on the issue will take place at the prime minister’s office on Sunday, chaired by the head of the National Security Council Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, the ministry noted. Also present will be Environmental Protection Ministry director-general Alona Shefer-Karo, as well as representatives of the Finance Ministry and of the Economy and Trade Ministry.
“All parties involved need to understand that time is short and the job is immense,” Peretz said. “There is no reason that justifies the continuation of this dangerous situation, and today more than ever there is an opportunity to implement this due to the natural gas that is flowing into Israel.”
Meanwhile, Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chairwoman Miri Regev said she would hold a special discussion on the issue at the Knesset on Tuesday morning, to address the risks associated with the container’s location.
The nationwide volunteer student organization Green Course, which has been actively promoting the container’s move, likewise stressed the urgency of addressing the situation following the Texas disaster. A leakage of just 10 percent of the container could kill 17,000 people immediately, the organization said – citing a government-commissioned report prepared by Herzl Shafir on Haifa Port’s disaster readiness in 2007.
Green Course turned to Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Monday demanding the budget necessary to immediately evacuate the ammonia tanker from the region.
The environmental activism group Zalul also called for the government to follow through on promises to remove the ammonia container from Haifa Bay as a matter of national priority. While the ammonia tank at the Texas fertilizer facility only contained a few thousand tons of ammonia for fertilizer production, the container in Haifa contains 12,000 tons of the potentially explosive material, Zalul stressed.
“The fertilizer plant explosion in Texas is a frightening reminder of the disaster that could occur as a result of an explosion mixed with ammonia gas close to a population,” the organization said.
Far to the south of Haifa, Be’er Tuviya residents saw the Texas incident as proof that a planned natural gas facility should not be located in their midst – in an industrial complex that contains 70 tons of ammonia and is in easy range of Gazan rocket-fire. The residents sent urgent appeals to Erdan and Peretz following the Texas disaster, praising the ministers’ efforts to remove the Haifa ammonia container but stressing the importance of keeping their area safe from harm.
The Environmental Protection Ministry has maintained that it sees little risk in establishing a natural gas facility in the Be’er Tuviya industrial zone, and the entrepreneurs behind the project have reiterated that the site will operate according to the highest of international safety standards.