Haifa's cancer morbidity blamed on refinery pollution

The Ministry of Health denied that air pollution causes high morbidity rate, but the numbers tell a different story.

Beit Hazikuk in Haifa is the country’s largest oil refinery. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Beit Hazikuk in Haifa is the country’s largest oil refinery.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Ministry of Health and the Israel Cancer Association published a report on cancer morbidity in Israel, classified by region, between the years 2001 to 2015.
The data, published Monday, showed a significantly higher morbidity rate in Haifa than the rest of the country. Haifa's higher cancer rates have been the subject of controversy for years due to the belief that they are the result of air pollution caused by the city's oil refinery. Ashkelon, which hosts a coal plant, also had a unusually high rate of cancer morbidity, strengthening the argument that the rate is connected to air pollution.
The report, however, denied that there is a direct connection between the cancer morbidity rate and air pollution, or any other single cause. The cancer morbidity rate is a result of several factors, the report said, including genetics, behavior, hormones and environment. The report also stated that claiming that there is a connection between environmental pollution and cancer morbidity is problematic due to the fact that the place where a patient was diagnosed is not always the same place where he or she was first exposed to a pollutant or developed cancerous cells.
Additionally, because the report is divided into districts, it does not necessarily reflect typical local exposures. In order to prove a direct connection between air pollution and cancer morbidity, academic research would need to take different factors into account, the report stated.
MK Yael Cohen Paran of the Zionist Union, who is also the representative of the environmental movement and chairman of the lobby for the recovery of Haifa Bay, reacted angrily to the report. "The Ministry of Health is denying the truth with a despicable statement," she said. "It is not a coincidence that in the Haifa and Ashkelon regions there are more occurrences of cancer." 
She accused the Ministry of Health of comfortably ignoring the facts screaming from the report saying. "These areas are known to be hot spots [...] that poison the air and soil," and "instead of taking responsibility and caring for the health of the residents, the Ministry of Health sows sand in the public's eyes, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection lacks the ability to ensure effective enforcement."
Haifa Municipality Council member and mayoral candidate , Avihu Han, together with "The Greens of Haifa"  which he heads, also claimed that "no one has any doubt that the Haifa region has significantly more cancer occurrences due to the pollution from the petrochemical industry and the polluting facilities in Haifa Bay."
He blamed authorities of silently preventing an epidemiological study in the Haifa district, and "concealing critical information that the public has the right and duty to receive."
"The risk of cancer among children in the Haifa sub-district is kept secret, which, if published, would cause a public earthquake in the State of Israel," he added.
In 2015, Professor Grotto of the Ministry of Health announced that those living within a 200-meter radius of the fuel tanks in Kiryat Haim are five times more likely to get cancer by the age of 65 than anywhere else in the country.
Prof. Lital Keinan Boker, deputy director of the Center for Disease Control in the Ministry of Health, claimed that the high cancer morbidity in Haifa and Ashkelon cannot be deduced from pollution and that "only lung cancer and, to some extent, bladder cancer are considered to be related to environmental air pollution."
Also released by the Ministry of Health today, a study headed by Prof. Eliezer Robinson, chairman of the International Cancer Association, for the first time examined the behavioral factors that affect Israeli mortality from cancer and concluded that some 9600 Israelis could still be alive had they adopted a healthier way of life and abstained from cancer-causing behavior.
Among the main causes for cancer, the study listed smoking, obesity, alcohol and red meat consumption.