Negev environmental hazard contained

Ramat Hovav factory explosion causes phosphorous cloud, forcing evacuation.

Ramat Hovav 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ramat Hovav 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eight workers of the Makhteshim Chemical Works plant in Ramat Hovav near Beersheba were rushed to the hospital Monday after inhaling insecticide following an explosion at the facility. The main road to Beersheba was closed for several hours following the explosion. Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra instructed the office's deputy director-general to launch an investigation into the incident and to deliver an interim report within 24 hours. Makhteshim also said it would conduct its own internal probe. According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, the explosion occurred in a reactor that contained the insecticide, Suprathion, an organic-phosphoric substance. The monitoring team at the ministry identified remnants of the toxic substance at a distance of one kilometer from the factory, necessitating the closure of Road 40 to Beersheba for a couple of hours. Following the incident, the factory's workers and residents of a nearby Beduin town were evacuated as a gray cloud spread over the area. A preliminary police investigation revealed that an insecticide container exploded, sending a cloud of phosphoric acid, considered toxic and extremely hazardous, into the air. Firefighters and environmental protection crews were rushed to the scene and tried to gain control over the leak by neutralizing it with sand. Prof. Maty Lifshitz, a toxicologist at the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba told The Jerusalem Post that those evacuated to the emergency room had inhaled the toxic substance. "All eight of the injured who came here were in light condition. That means the amount of substance they absorbed was small," said Lifshitz, predicting that all would be released over the course of the day. A specialist in the chemicals industry said the chemical was rarely produced nowadays. "Suprathion is an old generation insecticide and it consists of toxic substances. It is produced in Israel primarily for export, as it use is very rarely in developed countries," the specialist, who asked not to be identified, told the Post. "The incident in Ramat Hovav and the severe air pollution in Haifa Bay a week ago highlight the enormous dangers in these two areas to people's lives, which reach the public attention only when a disaster or near-disaster occurs," said Naor Yerushalmi, spokesman of the Life and Environment activist group. "We expect the government, and not just the Environmental Protection Ministry with its limited resources, to take responsibility for those two hazardous areas, and invest the resources needed to reduce the danger they constitute to the lives and health of the residents in the area. These sorts of investments should be made before new projects such as the planned military city are initiated, putting thousands of people at risk," Yerushalmi added.