After weekend's fatal ammonia leak, MKs call for swift action

The leak, which occurred at the Hod Hefer Ltd. Poultry Processing Plant in Emek Hefer, is suspected to have been caused by factory workers who accidentally cut two pipes.

Knesset pannel on ammonia leak (photo credit: KNESSET)
Knesset pannel on ammonia leak
(photo credit: KNESSET)
In emergency discussion regarding Thursday night’s tragic ammonia leak, which left a firefighter dead and injured 20 others, Knesset members called for an immediate investigation into the incident.
The leak, which occurred at the Hod Hefer Ltd. Poultry Processing Plant in Emek Hefer, is suspected to have been caused by factory workers who accidentally cut two pipes linked to the 8-ton ammonia tank that leaked.
Firefighter Samer Asil, 34, was killed in the rescue effort that followed.
At a special meeting in the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Monday, its chairwoman, MK Miri Regev (Likud), discovered that no interministerial team has been established to investigate the incident. She therefore ordered the immediate establishment of a commission on the subject, which will be responsible for reporting findings to the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee within one month.
“This was a grave incident, a warning sign to what could happen in the Haifa Bay,” Regev said.
Environmental Protection Ministry director-general David Lefler confirmed that the Hod Hefer plant received a toxins permit in June, and that ministry officials had toured the site in July.
“The failure probably occurred when upgrading the ammonia tank,” Lefler said.
Menahem Caspi, the deputy commander of the Fire and Rescue Services central district, added that the hazardous materials team was on site within five minutes of the incident and Fire and Rescue Services another five minutes after that.
Speaking about the broader dangers to the Haifa Bay region, the discussion participants also spoke about the much larger ammonia container facility located in Haifa. That 12,000-ton tanker, owned by Haifa Chemicals, supplies ammonia to factories all over the country, such as the Hod Hefer poultry facility.
Environmental activists and politicians alike have long been fighting to eliminate it, due to the security risks of its location.
In March 2012, the government decided that the Haifa Bay tanker must close and move to an unpopulated portion of the Negev by 2017.
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz made clear in spring 2013 that he also would refuse to renew the plant’s license after 2016.
By January 2014, the ministry and the Israel Lands Authority published a joint tender for the establishment of a Negev ammonia production facility.
The future production facility in the Negev will generate ammonia on-site in a much safer manner, Peretz told The Jerusalem Post in an October interview. Most facilities in need of ammonia are actually located in the Negev region, thereby reducing the need for heavy trucking, he explained.
Nonetheless, green groups such as Zalul have accused the government of delaying construction of the facility due to “foot-dragging and bureaucracy.”
At Monday’s committee meeting, MK Dov Henin (Hadash), who chairs a subcommittee on the Haifa Bay, likewise spoke about how the government’s decision has failed to advance.
“It will be a shame if we act only after the next disaster,” Henin said. “If a disaster occurs in the Haifa Bay, we will not be able to provide the public with answers. A special discussion on the subject in which we get a clear timetable is necessary.”
Henin stressed the importance of determining where the country needs ammonia facilities and where it does not, noting that in 2013 there were 18 incidents with ammonia and in 2014 thus far there have been 11.
“In Israel there are many dangerous substances, and we must act more stringently in order to protect our citizens from accidents, earthquakes and missiles,” Henin said. “To date, we have not done what is necessary to protect citizens from these things.”
Ben Hartman contributed to this report.