Ministry: Factory's safety violations caused fatal fire

Environmental Protection Ministry to push for increased authority to revoke businesses' licenses for repeated technical violations.

general fire 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
general fire 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Environmental Protection Ministry will push hard for increased authority to revoke businesses' licenses for repeated technical violations, it was revealed Thursday during a press conference in Tel Aviv. The decision was the main outcome of an interim report into the explosion and subsequent fire at the A.S. Ecologiyot factory in Petah Tikva on September 21, which claimed the lives of two illegal workers and injured 10 others, including five firemen. The ministry revealed that its investigation had concluded with near certainty that the medical waste treatment and transport company had broken the law on numerous occasions, and that this had led to the unsafe conditions that caused the explosion. "A picture has emerged of a factory which clearly and significantly violated the authorities' regulations, and which was the cause of the hazardous material incident," the report said. The direct cause of the explosion was determined to be half-empty aerosol cans being crushed in close proximity to highly flammable materials. The cans ignited and exploded, causing the fire. The company did not have a license to work with full or half-full aerosol cans at all, Baruch Weber, head of the ministry's Tel Aviv district and head of the investigative committee, told reporters. It was also revealed that, since the company's founding in 2002, its owners had been cited for a series of violations and targeted for legal proceedings, although Weber said they were not the "smoking gun" necessary for revoking their hazardous materials and business licenses prior to the incident. Both licenses have since been revoked, but the company has petitioned the courts to have them reinstated, Yossi Inbar, the ministry's deputy director-general said. In addition to illegally handling aerosol cans, the factory had not stored hazardous materials properly, which caused the fire to spread quickly and hindered the work of firemen, Menahem Kaspi, the fire service's national Hazmat (hazardous materials) officer, informed the investigative committee. Kaspi, who is also a member of the committee, was present at the fire. During the course of the investigation,it was also discovered that the real owner of the factory was Yaakov Sade, who had owned a facility at the same location that the ministry shut down in 1999 for a string of violations. Although Yossi Edri was listed as the owner of the A.S. Ecologiyot factory, it was in fact Sade who owned its machinery and apparently ran the operations. As a result of the fire, the ministry is determined to obtain the authority to revoke licenses for excessive technical violations, meaning it would not have to wait for a serious incident, for example in which someone is injured or killed. "We need veto power," ministry director-general Shai Avital said. However, Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra was skeptical that he would be able to secure such authority. "The factory should have been shut down two years ago," Ezra said, "but we didn't have the authority. In this political climate, which does not prioritize environmental issues, I don't believe we will make much progress, although we will try." Despite the fire, Weber said, there has been a steady decrease in the public's exposure to hazardous materials. Eighteen out of 20 locations in the Tel Aviv district that improperly stored such materials have been closed, he said. Also on the positive side, the investigative committee found that the ministry's emergency response personnel had performed well during the incident.