The Environmental Protection Ministry's legal department brought charges of severe air pollution against three major gas companies last week, the ministry announced Sunday. All three companies - Delek, Paz and Sonol - had failed to meet a deadline for implementing a system to prevent gas vapors from escaping at their storage stations at Oil Beach in Haifa. The system, known as Stage I, was designed to ensure a vapor-free transfer of gas from storage tank to transport tanker by recycling the vapors back into gas. Gas vapors are both carcinogenic and contain many elements that pollute the air. While the companies eventually did install the systems, it was, on average, nearly two years later than they were supposed to. The ministry also charged that their failure to install the systems violated the conditions of their operating licenses. According to the charge sheet, Sonol's system, which was installed in May of last year, broke down shortly afterward and has yet to be repaired. In response to the allegations, Sonol said in a statement that it had "not yet received the text of the lawsuit. When we do, we will study the topic and respond accordingly in court." Referring to the ministry press release, the company said it was "important to note that Sonol has had a working system to recycle vapors in place in Haifa for a number of years already." Delek also responded that it had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and so could not reply. Paz did not return a call for comment by press time. All three companies had been obliged to install the systems by August 1, 2005. Sonol finished the installation a year and 10 months later, according to the ministry. Delek only turned on its system on April 22, 2007, a year and nine months after the cut-off date. Paz finished installing its system in December 2006, a year later than it should have. The Tel Aviv and Central District legal adviser to the ministry, Zohar Shekalim, who drew up the court documents, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the documents were "among the first of their kind." She said the documents had taken the ministry several months to prepare and that it was prepared to issue more against any other companies found to be in violation. She added in a statement that "the ministry has every intention of seeing the violators put on trial."