Environment Ministry accuses IDF of exposing public to toxins from battery storage

After some 2,000 lithium batteries caught fire at the Sirkin military base in central Israel this December, the Environmental Protection Ministry is slamming the IDF.

Soldiers with battery packs. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Soldiers with battery packs.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Some 2,000 lithium batteries caught fire at the Sirkin military base in the central region last month, and the Environmental Protection Ministry is slamming the army for failing to heed its warnings.
Despite repeated warnings against storing old batteries at the base, the batteries remained in open containers adjacent to an explosives warehouse near the fence of the base, the ministry said.
The Sirkin military camp, which houses the elite Yahalom Special Operations Engineering Unit, is located next to several residential neighborhoods in Petah Tikva, the ministry added.
The Environmental Protection Ministry is conducting an inquiry on the matter with the deputy commander of the Yahalom unit, following the December 5 fire.
“It is time that the army understands that protecting the environment means protecting the health of soldiers and citizens,” Deputy Environmental Protection Minister Ophir Akunis said. “We cannot continue to rely on luck and on the idea that through miracles not a single soldier or citizen will be hurt. Criminal and prolonged neglect of the environment and air quality at the base is endangering soldiers.”
Contact with water causes lithium to catch fire, and the batteries in question began flaring up after getting wet, the ministry explained.
As a result, poisonous gas was released into the air. A strong smell was detected at the Sha’ariya Interchange in Petah Tikva, on Route 6 and in the neighborhoods surrounding the base, according to the ministry.
The batteries were covered with soil in order to extinguish them, thereby polluting the surrounding land and groundwater, the ministry said.
In 2012, a similar event occurred at the Bilu military base south of Rehovot, prompting the ministry to order the army to address the issue. Nonetheless, thousands of batteries continue to be held in unsafe, open containers, often near ammunition caches, the ministry warned.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office said “the fire that broke [last month] out was near the area in which old batteries were stored.
“Firemen were called to the site and controlled the fire.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Ministry mobile unit arrived to the scene and determined that there was no danger after the fire. The event will be investigated by the Environmental Protection Ministry, and in the near future, the evacuation of batteries by a civilian company that specializes in the subject will begin,” the IDF Spokesman’s Office said.