Green group: Declare Haifa air pollution region

Environmentalist group calls on Erdan to make declaration, forcing cities in Haifa Bay region to take action.

Haifa air pollution 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Haifa air pollution 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Representatives of the Green Movement demanded, in a letter sent to Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan on Thursday morning, that he immediately declare the Haifa Bay region as an area afflicted with air pollution.
Such a declaration would force the affected cities to create and launch plans for air pollution rehabilitation within their jurisdictions, according to the Clean Air Law.
In early November, the Environmental Protection Ministry had prepared a draft version of a declaration that would deem the Haifa Bay region as stricken with air pollution, according to the Green Movement. The municipalities to be affected by this declaration included Haifa, Kiryat Yam, Kiryat Bialik, Kiryat Motzkin and Kiryat Ata. However, with an objective of maintaining fairness, the ministry passed the draft along to the municipal authorities as a warning before issuing the decree, a Green Movement statement said.
After some discussions – and uproar from the city of Haifa – the sides reached an agreement that the cities would instead present the ministry with programs for reducing transportation pollution by April 15 of this year, the Green Movement statement continued.
In the letter, the movement’s two chairs, Prof. Alon Tal and Racheli Tidhar-Kenner, demanded that the “dawdling” end and that a declaration occur immediately.
“We hope that this announcement will force the local authorities to treat in a serious and responsible manner the industrial pollution hazards in the Haifa Bay, and not allow them to evade their obligation of conducting an intensive treatment of the air pollution hazards in the area,” they wrote.
As determined by the Clean Air Law, approved in 2008 and enacted in January 2011, only two conditions are required for declaring an area a victim of air pollution – the recurring deviation from environmental values or abnormal occurrence of air pollution and an opinion from the Health Ministry’s director-general stating public health or environmental concerns, according to the movement.
Data from the Environmental Protection Ministry has indicated that both of these conditions have been fulfilled for quite some time, the group’s statement said.
“According to the law, the consent of the authorities in the region is not a condition for declaring an area afflicted by air pollution,” Tidhar-Kenner said in the statement. “It is apparent that setting clear goals and requiring treatment of air pollution is not the interest of the local authority, and this declaration is likely to be damaging the image of the authority.”
Moreover, Tidhar-Kenner argued, the plans that the ministry has instead required the cities to submit focus solely on public transportation, even though industry is also a huge source of air pollution.
“Therefore, even if there magically disappears sources of transportation pollution, the Haifa Bay area will still remain in the form of an area afflicted by air pollution from industrial sources,” she said.
“I would ask the minister how he would feel if his wife was one of the hundreds of women who have had miscarriages,” Tal told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday afternoon, noting that the miscarriage rate in Haifa is 45 percent higher than the national average.
“I would ask him if giving them more time was a good idea.”
There is also an abnormally high occurrence of Hodgkins-Lymphoma as well as asthma problems in the region, and breast cancer rates there are “off the charts,” with one in seven women suffering from the disease, Tal said. He stressed the importance that the ministry commit to a declaration as soon as possible.
“We can use this as a tool to break the glass of the pollution that has been suffocating people for a while,” Tal said.
In response to a Post query about the Green Movement’s allegations, the Environmental Protection Ministry said that it has completed the preparation of a detailed national program to reduce air pollution and distributed it to government offices about six months ago.
“Unfortunately, the government has not yet voted on and approved the plan and this issue was discussed at the High Court in recent days,” the ministry said.
The Environment Ministry is currently undergoing discussions with the Treasury in order to reach an agreement that will enable the realization of this program, on which an interministerial team has been working for a year and a half, the response continued.
“It is emphasized that by no means whatsoever has the declaration on the cities afflicted by air pollution been cancelled,” the ministry said.
“In order to enable the local authorities to work toward reducing air pollution in their territories, it was decided to postpone this step only for a limited time.”
Some have the municipalities have already submitted their air pollution reduction plans, while others are in advanced stages of their preparation procedures, the ministry explained.
“The ministry is closely following the activities of the authorities on this matter and will consider the declaration in accordance with their performance and progress,” the response said.
The ministry also stressed, however, that not all the blame belongs to the cities themselves and that the Transportation Ministry must take steps to reduce air pollution caused by vehicles, which are a major factor in pollution.
Green Course, an environmental organization that last Friday distributed balloons filled with clean air at the Haifa Stair Race, likewise said that the Environmental Protection Ministry must declare Haifa, as well as a few other cities, as afflicted by air pollution.
The organization spokesman noted, however, that because Green Course is a nonpartisan organization, it is fighting a struggle independent from that of the Green Movement.
“In the year 2012, the State of Israel is stricken with air pollution, ensnared in traffic jams, polluted by portions of the factories and not promoting a sector for efficient solutions, whose sources are green energy,” the Green Course spokesman said.
Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa all need to be declared victims of air pollution, a notion that Green Course will be declaring at a ceremony at Beit Dizengoff on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon. Joining Green Course will be Adam Teva V’Din – Israel Union for Environmental Defense, Greenpeace, the Coalition for Public Health, Transportation Today and Tomorrow, Israel Energy Forum and 15 Minutes, an organization for public transportation users.
“In Israel people are sick and dying from air pollution, every year about 1,000 people, mostly in big cities,” the Green Course spokesman said.
“We call on the Environmental Protection Ministry, the regional authorities and the Israeli government to take responsibility for the health of residents, to declare these cities as afflicted with air pollution and promote programs to reduce air pollution.”