'Hazardous bromine transport driven by economic concerns'

Knesset Health and Environment Committee Chairman Dov Henin says health and safety of public is less of a concern.

BROMINE heavily reinforced containers 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
BROMINE heavily reinforced containers 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Knesset Health and Environment Committee Chairman Dov Henin (Hadash) concluded a session on Monday about the transport of the hazardous chemical bromine, pronouncing that he was very worried that “economic interests seem to be governing the transport of bromine rather than the health and safety of the public.”
Bromine is both corrosive and poisonous. The Environmental Protection Ministry has estimated that a container ruptured during transport would cause the deaths of anywhere from 6,500 to 350,000 people, and would go straight into the ground and damage infrastructure as well.
Henin’s committee met to discuss the issue of transporting bromine to Haifa Port rather than along the seemingly closer, cheaper and less populated route to Ashdod Port.
Most of the bromine has been shipped to Haifa on nighttime trains that run through population centers like Beersheba, Lod, Rosh Ha’ayin, Bnei Brak, Hadera and Haifa. The lower city of Haifa, through which the train runs, cannot contain gathering places for large numbers of people because it is illegal to build them within 200 meters of potential hazards.
Israel is the biggest producer of bromine. It is mined out of the Dead Sea and used in a variety of industries, including food processing, beauty products and water treatment. Israel uses a small amount domestically and exports 40,000 tons a year.
Bromine used to be shipped in equal measure from Ashdod and Haifa, but in the last five years, Haifa has taken over the lion’s share. Ashdod was forced to ship fewer containers of the chemical because its hazardous materials license did not allow it to offload the containers onto ships within 1 kilometer of residential areas, and the southern portion of the port fell within that distance. The northern portion is 2 km. away from residential areas but is a deep water section for larger ships.
Bromine is usually shipped by smaller ships that don’t require the deep water section.
Routing the smaller ships to that area would disrupt the efficient flow of the product, according to a Knesset Research Center report commissioned for the session by Henin.
However, Henin and MK Rachel Adatto both noted that Haifa Port was also less than 1 km. from residential areas. So, the two asked, why was it illegal in Ashdod but legal in Haifa? Itzik Duer of the Environmental Protection Ministry acknowledged that the contradiction had emerged over time and would be rectified. The ministry is in the midst of formulating its position on the matter, and an investigative committee led by Duer is expected to finalize its conclusions later this month, he said.
However, he also said that Ashdod Port seemed to be getting around the restrictions, as bromine shipments in 2010 were split almost evenly again.
In 2009, Haifa Port was still receiving the majority of containers.
While Eilat Port would be a logical export choice, there is no train line to Eilat; the bromine would have to be transported in trucks. That, in turn, would increase the risk of a car accident involving one of the trucks. In addition, a representative of Israel Chemicals, which produces the bromine, said that none of the shipping companies that carry the bromine came to Eilat.
The representative, the CEO’s aide Ofer Lifshitz, also said they were constrained by the fact that the shipping companies use Haifa Port rather than Ashdod Port. One of the main shipping companies is Zim Integrated Shipping Services, which is owned by the same parent company as Israel Chemicals.
Henin expressed his extreme concern that the shipping companies, rather than health and safety considerations, were dictating the terms of transport.
He said the committee would follow up on the issue and invite representatives of the shipping companies to attend the next session.
He also said the committee would express its displeasure with the Haifa Municipality for failing to send a representative to a session “about an issue clearly of importance to Haifa.”