Experts warn haredim they're poisoning families

Cyanide and of other toxic substances are released into the air when plastic is torched.

haredi riot flames (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredi riot flames
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haredi hotheads who are burning plastic garbage bins to protest Friday's Gay Pride Parade are poisoning themselves and their families, according to environmental health experts who say burned plastic releases "thousands" of dangerous chemicals, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Cyanide and a variety of volatile organochlorine compounds are only some of the toxic substances released into the air when plastic - which is made from petrochemicals - is torched, said Prof. Elihu Richter, retiring head of the Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Hebrew University's Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld, a Columbia University occupational medicine expert who is moving here from New York and will teach at the Braun School starting in February. "The burning of plastic garbage bins must be stopped immediately," they declared. Wilkenfeld and Richter told the Post that the fumes from the slow-burning plastic bins, mostly in haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem and other cities with large haredi populations, pose a serious health danger to residents. They can endanger pregnant and lactating women (of whom there are large numbers in haredi areas) and especially children, who are more susceptible to such poisons. They can cause short-term headaches, dizziness and breathing difficulties, provoke asthma attacks and cause long-term damage to people of all ages, the experts said. The Health Ministry said it has not yet received reports from hospitals about illness connected with the burning, but Richter noted that immediate effects of environmental toxins are nonspecific. "People are there and exposed to such fumes - and their general practitioners are not likely to realize the connection between them and their symptoms," he said. "I don't understand how they burn garbage cans, as it violates Jewish law of protecting lives and health and barring the needless destruction of property." Meanwhile, a new study just presented by a scientist at RTI International at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association warned about the "severe dangers" of cyanide poisoning due to the burning of plastic and other materials. Cyanide is produced during fires when products containing carbon and nitrogen, such as plastics, wool, paper, cotton and silk, burn. "Cyanide disrupts the body's ability to use oxygen properly, which ultimately kills cells, causing harm to vital organs, such as the heart and the brain. People can be exposed to cyanide as a result of fire smoke, terrorist acts or industrial accidents," said the researcher, who was obviously not aware of the current burning of plastic bins in Israel to protest the Gay Pride Parade.