MKs call for swift transfer of Haifa ammonia tanker

“There is a time bomb ticking, and only when a disaster occurs will we wake up,” says MK Miri Regev.

Haifa Chemicals ammonia tanker (photo credit:
Haifa Chemicals ammonia tanker
(photo credit:
In the aftermath of last week’s Texas fertilizer plant explosion, speaker after speaker – at a special Knesset committee discussion on the issue Tuesday – urged the government to urgently relocate the Haifa Chemicals ammonia tanker.
“There is a time bomb ticking, and only when a disaster occurs will we wake up,” said MK Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu), chairwoman of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, through which the discussion took place. “The ticking time bomb of an ammonia tanker explosion is more threatening than all the bombs that we talk about concerning Iran.”
While the fertilizer plant in Texas contained only a few thousand tons of ammonia involved in fertilizer production, the Haifa plant contains about 17,000 tons of the explosive material in dangerously close proximity to residential areas, the speakers warned.
Referring to the situation in Texas, during which 14 people died and about 200 were injured, Regev stressed that Israel, too, is by no means immune to such a disaster occurring here. Urgent measures must be taken to expedite the move of the container to an unpopulated region of the Negev, she stressed.
Despite the various decisions and recommendations that have been made regarding Israel’s ammonia, nothing yet has occurred to change the reality of containers situated in population centers – primarily in Haifa, but also in Kiryat Shmona, Be’er Tuviya, Acre and others, Regev noted.
At the meeting, Environmental Protection Ministry deputy director-general Shuli Nezer presented the ministry’s activities encouraging the tanker’s move.
Following the report of the governmentcommissioned Shafir Committee – which highlighted the dangers of the Haifa Bay region factories following the Second Lebanon War – the ministry decided that the container should be closed down and moved to an unpopulated location in the Negev, she explained.
The government last year approved a proposal – backed by then environmental protection minister Gilad Erdan and then industry, trade and labor minister Shalom Simhon – to require the closure and transferal of the container by 2017, and since, the ministry has received offers to conduct this process by many firms. Meanwhile, the Economy Ministry is currently evaluating the feasibility of the move, Nezer said.
In response to these explanations, Regev said that in order to protect Israel’s citizens, she is interested in obtaining answers immediately from the various government agencies involved in the situation.
Herzl Shafir, the chairman of the Shafir Committee mentioned by Nezer, noted that one of the most important conclusions reached by his committee – introducing overhead shielding to each container – has yet to be implemented.
This has not yet occurred in Haifa, due to the Home Front Command’s lack of consent, which he said has been evaluating the situation in a purely statistical matter.
Until the government does implement the full solution, Shafir recommended executing a “civil response system,” such as sounding alarms that will give the residents several minutes to protect themselves from danger.
Meanwhile, Doron Avrahami, director of the Economy Ministry’s environment and sustainable development administration, said that, due to bureaucratic difficulties, the government has not yet acted on the decision to move the ammonia container.
As far as Haifa residents themselves are concerned, municipal legal advisor Reshef Cheyne stressed that since 2003, the city has been trying to remove the facility from its territory, but they have been “alone in the fight.”
Dr. Isabella Karakis, epidemiologist at the Health Ministry, said that – before this committee session – experts from her ministry had never been invited to any of the meetings regarding this contentious subject.
Explaining to the committee the dangers of ammonia exposure – which can be fatal – Karakis stressed that immediate medical treatment, hospitalization and a staff that knows how to treat the exposure is mandatory.
To MK David Azoulay (Shas), this meeting brought back memories of times prior to the Carmel fire disaster.
“Everyone sat and spoke about how there will be a crisis, and prayed that there would not be a disaster, and at the end of the day, unfortunately there was a disaster,” Azoulay said.
As the committee concluded the discussion on the tanker, Regev said that action must be taken without further delay, and she expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of coordination among the various ministries involved.
While Shafir’s civil response idea is a positive one, it is not a long-term solution, according to Regev, who said she intends to establish a sub-committee addressing the ammonia situation.
Following the discussion about the Haifa ammonia tanker, former Kiryat Malachi mayor Moshe Shimon spoke strongly against the establishment of a natural gas plant in the Be’er Tuviya industrial zone, which contains 70 tons worth of ammonia and is in prime Gazan rocket range. In response, Regev ordered that a letter be sent to the Interior Ministry demanding that the office not proceed with building a gas plant there until the committee formulates a decision on the matter.
Following the discussion on the ammonia container, the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee held a second special session to mark Earth Day, in the presence of Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz.
During this second discussion, Peretz committed to integrating the work of all the ministries involved with handling the ammonia situation, adding that he would demand that the Finance Ministry allocate the NIS 70 million necessary for the closure and move, according to the committee.
Maya Jacobs, CEO of the environmental organization Zalul, praised Peretz’s words of commitment as well as both his and Regev’s recognition of the move’s urgency.
“But statements aren’t enough,” Jacobs said. “The government offices must promote the decision to evacuate the container and make the Negev plant construction a national priority.”