Air pollution reached such a dangerous level due to a substantial waste fire in the region of the West Bank outside of Ramallah that settlers and Israeli shop owners were asked to stay indoors and close their stores.
"We woke up one morning" to "a big black thick pillar of smoke, no one can breathe, Israelis or Palestinians in the entire region," Eliana Passentin, a spokeswoman for the Binyamin Regional Council, told The Jerusalem Post from near the site on Monday.
She spoke as a fire raged for the second day in an abandoned quarry located off of the central artery of Route 60 and not far from the Sha'ar Binyamin Industrial Park, a major commercial center for the area.
How did a massive waste fire break out in the West Bank?
Palestinians have used the site as an illegal dumping ground for garbage for so many years that a wall of trash had formed.
The blaze that broke out encased the entire quarry wall, making it look like a black hill was on fire.
Pillars of smoke billowed out from the site, filling the air with a burning smell and so much smoke that it was hard to breathe. As Passentin spoke, cranes in the back of her threw sand on the fire to extinguish it. Every few moments, the air resounded with a sound of explosion from bits of garbage that were highly flammable.
"Every few moments, we hear a huge boom [because] somebody's deodorant is blowing up," Passentin said. "We cannot breathe. Today, all the workers in the regional council and the entire industrial zone were asked to leave, close their businesses, and go home."
There are "people suffering from asthma," but "it is dangerous for everyone."
The Samaria Association for Environmental Quality and the Ministry of Environmental Protection assessed fine particle pollution in the air, concluding that the area posed a hazardous risk. Subsequently, the Environmental Protection and Health ministries sent a letter to the Binyamin Regional Council and Israel Police, who are responsible for the event, urging them to evacuate residents from the affected areas until pollution levels are reduced.
The ministries assured that they would continuously monitor measurements in the area and update accordingly.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said that it did not inform the Palestinian Authority of the high level of particles because "all environmental treatment in the territories of the West Bank, except in Israeli settlements, is under the authority of the Civil Administration. According to the law, the ministry deals with waste only in Israeli settlements."
Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman addressed a letter to the head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, urging it to "exercise its authority and capabilities to extinguish the fire and stop the damage."
Silman emphasized the importance of taking action to cover the burning area with sand using heavy machinery to put a stop to the waste fire and smoke damage. She highlighted that the measures taken so far have not been sufficient.
"The Civil Administration is doing everything it can during the last few days to extinguish the fire."Civil Administration spokesperson
A spokesperson for the Civil Administration told the Post, "The Civil Administration is doing everything it can during the last few days to extinguish the fire."
Silman characterized the problem as an ongoing issue, which her office had previously alerted the Civil Administration about, even during her visit to the extensive waste site about a month ago.
On Monday, in her letter to the administration, Silman urged it to take action and utilize all available means to enforce the proper disposal of garbage, emphasizing the necessity to end the ongoing health hazards caused by improper waste management.
She said that putting out the fire is likely to take days.
"We must find a solution for a better future for everyone working here. We deserve to breathe clean, fresh air and not be in danger from this horrible burning of garbage that happens everywhere on a weekly basis," Passentin said.