Ashdod chemical factory blaze probe handed over to Green Police

Environment Ministry cites irregularities in company's handling of the incident.

ashdod chemical fire 248 88 (photo credit: channel 10)
ashdod chemical fire 248 88
(photo credit: channel 10)
Arik Bar Sade, head of the Environmental Protection Ministry's Southern District, turned the investigation of last month's Agan Chemicals Factory fire over to the Green Police this week. A probe was launched primarily because of how the factory handled the incident. On January 14, during the middle of Operation Cast Lead, a fire broke out in one of the Ashdod factory's warehouses and about 140 tons of pesticide went up in flames. The fire was brought under control within two hours and no air or water pollution was caused, a subsequent ministry investigation found. However, during the blaze, factory representatives could not provide firefighters and ministry inspectors with precise information about what was stored in that warehouse. The company's CEO, David Nir, said in a hearing held last week it was a temporary storage warehouse with a rapidly changing inventory and that was why an exact list could not be provided. Bar Sade also asked Nir why no one from the company had contacted the ministry's hot line within 15 minutes of the blaze breaking out, as required by law. Nir replied that he had phone records proving the site manager had in fact called but no one picked up. The ministry requested the phone records, but they have not yet been provided. Large quantities of burnt chemicals were flushed into a nearby stream during efforts to quell the flames instead of being dealt with properly by the factory's pumps. Nir said one of the pumps had been overloaded by foam created by the burnt chemicals and therefore apparently malfunctioned, causing an overflow, according to a summary of the hearing provided by the ministry. Nir said such a complication could not have been foreseen. According to the ministry, the stream was not polluted by the overflow. Bar Sade also asked factory management whether chemicals that should not have been stored together were in fact stored in the same warehouse. One chemical in particular was especially flammable, Bar Sade noted. However, Nir said that the chemicals had been stored properly and the flammable chemical had been stored among the other chemicals for years. However, he agreed to store it separately when their supply was renewed. The incident was also referred to the Green Police because the cause of the fire has yet to be determined. It does not appear to have come from a reaction among the chemicals in the warehouse, according to the investigation thus far. Bar Sade said the fact that no cause had been discovered yet was very worrying. The company released a statement rejecting the ministry's allegations, but pledging full cooperation. "Agan Chemicals has invested hundreds of millions of shekels in the last few years in upgrading its equipment and its environmental activities. The company has fully cooperated and will continue to cooperate with the Environmental Protection Ministry and in accordance with the strict regulations. "Regarding the fire, Agan does not accept the ministry's conclusions, but will continue to cooperate with the ministry as it has in the past, and will continue its own in-depth investigation into the cause of the fire," the statement said.