Toxic tar fumes force volunteers to evacuate while cleaning beaches

Municipalities are desparate for working hands to clean up the environmental disaster, but caution against doing so independently. *Warning: Graphic Content*

Several tons of tar which floated onto Israel's shores from an unknown source have already caused massive damage to local wildlife, and threaten to contaminate the local groundwater. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Several tons of tar which floated onto Israel's shores from an unknown source have already caused massive damage to local wildlife, and threaten to contaminate the local groundwater.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
In what is being called a major ecological disaster, the stormy weather of the past few days has washed huge quantities of tar onto large parts of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.
The beach pollution “is one of the most dire we’ve ever seen in Israel,” according to Nature and Parks Authority Director-General Shaul Goldstein, who added that the cleanup will take a long time.
While the source of the tar is still unknown, the texture indicates that it likely came as a result of an oil or gas spill from a vessel that passed by Israel’s shores. 
Oil samples are currently being tested from around 10 suspected vessels in order to ascertain the source of the spill. The Environmental Protection Ministry was able to narrow down the list of possible suspects responsible for the spill using satellite imaging. The ministry said the cleanup effort could last weeks, and cost tens of millions of NIS.
According to the ministry, a flight that scanned the shores on Saturday morning revealed that around 160 km. of Israel’s coastline had been damaged by the tar, from the southern beach of Ashkelon to the northern cliffs of Rosh Hanikra.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that "I have asked that a report on the matter, which is still being investigated, be submitted to the next Cabinet meeting. The circumstances that led to this incident are not yet known. We are in contact with the heads of all the authorities."
  
Many animals were found dead on the shore over the past few days, including a whale calf on Nitzanim Beach and sea turtles covered in tar.

In addition, the flight also found several large polluted areas in the sea itself, up to 500 m. away from the shore, all of which are moving towards beaches in the Haifa Bay area.
In response, the ministry called for all beaches in the Haifa Bay area to close until further notice.
The Herzliya Municipality declared a state of “ecological emergency” following the incident, saying they need dozens of working hands and equipment to clear away the tar, which they fear could contaminate nearby groundwater supplies.
“We have approved the transfer of emergency budgets to local authorities for the benefit of handling the incident, and we will soon advance the issue so that you receive the funds needed for the mission,” Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said on Friday in a situation assessment she held with municipal leaders.
Hundreds of volunteers came out to clear the large lumps of tar that floated onto the country’s shores during the storm. N12 reported on Saturday that multiple volunteers were evacuated after accidentally inhaling toxic fumes from the tar while trying to clean the beaches. 
The Nature and Parks Authority has requested that people not attempt to clean beaches independently, and instead urged potential volunteers to join them and their local municipalities in the cleanup efforts and receive proper waste-disposal training.
People wishing to sign up to volunteer to help clean can sign up through the Nature and Parks Authority here.
"Cleaning requires the use of appropriate protective equipment in order to maintain health and orderly evacuation to a suitable site," the authority said in a statement on Saturday.

תודה רבה למאות החיפאים שבאו בהתנדבות ומתוך אהבת הסביבה והים לנקות את החופים בעקבות פליטה של גושי זפת מהים לרצועת החוף של...
Posted by ‎עיריית חיפה‎ on Saturday, February 20, 2021
President Reuven Rivlin responded in a statment on Saturday, crying "'Oy' for our flora and fauna, for the seawater blackened in many tons of tar. It's time for an immediate national plan before we face an unprecedented ecological disaster.
“Oy for our flora and fauna, for the seawater blackened in many tons of tar,” President Reuven Rivlin sent out a statement. “It’s time for an immediate national plan before we face an unprecedented ecological disaster.”
MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz sent a letter to Gamliel on Saturday, in which she appealed that her ministry establishes a national emergency system to clean remove the tar from Israel’s shores.
She added that not only is there a dire need for a program like this to help negate the effects of the environmental disaster but that it could also help alleviate Israel’s massive unemployment crisis.
“Openings in the national emergency system can be particularly suitable jobs for young men and women who have been unemployed or have been in the IDF for many months and are begging for new economic gains,” Zandberg said, adding that “it will be possible to leverage the amounts already approved by the government for such employment programs.”

Later on Saturday, IDF Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and the Director-General of the Nature and Parks Authority, Shaul Goldstein, agreed that starting this week, thousands of IDF soldiers will assist employees and volunteers of the Nature and Parks Authority in mapping areas affected by tar pollution, cleaning beaches and disposing of garbage to designated sites. 
The Yesh Atid Party announced that they will send dozens of party volunteers to aid the cleaning efforts on Sunday, accompanied by the party’s chairman, Yair Lapid, and MK Yorai Lahav, who is the party’s representative on environmental protection issues.
On Saturday, Lapid suggested “the State of Israel must establish a maritime authority that will prepare Israel for dealing with maritime pollution disasters. Our seas and beaches are national resources and we must protect and preserve them.”
However, one need not just look at hypothetical future damage which could be done to the water supply, as the damage to wildlife has already begun to show its effects.
"The beach pollution that we see today from Nitzanim in the South to Rosh Hanikra in the North, and which was caused by yesterday's storm, is one of the most dire we've ever seen in Israel," Nature and Parks Authority Director-General Shaul Goldstein said in a video statement Thursday. 
 
"We just started cleaning this morning, and we've already removed five tons of tar from the beaches," he added. "Our estimate is that we will remove dozens of tons of tar, which now covers beaches across the country."