Report: Environment in poor condition

Water quality down, polluting factories given NIS 500m from state in past 5 yrs.

air pollution 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
air pollution 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
In its annual report submitted on Sunday morning to President Moshe Katsav, The Israel Union for Environmental Defense Adam Teva V'din painted a bleak picture of the environment in which we live. The report, which covered 2005, addressed a number of issues including water quality, air pollution and cellular radiation. The report found that the quality of drinking water in Israel does not conform to the standards in Western countries. The accepted norm in Israel when it comes to the clarity of water is three times less strict than those of western nations, despite the fact that the lower quality could entail severe health ramifications. The standards for water quality in Israel are outlined in a mere 14 pages of guidelines. In comparison, most western countries detail water standards in dozens or even hundreds of page-long documents. It is, therefore, no surprise that 72 percent of the public drink mineral or filtered water, according to the report. When it comes to cellular radiation and the thousands of antennas placed throughout the country, the report blasts a "fabulous partnership" that was formed between cellular phone companies and senior citizens' homes. The firms "cynically take advantage of the relatively weak sector of the population," placing numerous antennas on roofs of the compounds. The report found that antennas were placed on 22 senior citizens homes, eight of which belong to the government-subsidized company, Amigur. According to the findings, 84% of the public does not believe cellular companies' claim that cellular radiation is harmless. The report also focused on examining the environmental damage of the largest companies in Israel that market some of their products as "health products", such as Tnuva, Osem, Strauss-Elite, Tempo and Coca Cola. As one example, the union details the fact that nearly 1,500 trucks of the above companies travel thousands of kilometers, creating severe air pollution. Air quality is further deteriorating due to what the report describes as inadequate vehicle inspections, known in Israel as a 'test'. The annual examination, the report states, does not include all necessary parameters needed to properly evaluate the level of pollution a car emits. The same section of the report also stated that despite the fact that motorcycles emit the highest hydrocarbon levels among all vehicles, motorcycle owners are not required to install a catalytic converter, which significantly reduces the level of emitted hydrocarbons. Another chapter in the report outlines financial aid polluting factories receive from the state. In the past five years, the assistance these plants received reached $500 million. For example, factories owned by Israel Chemicals got benefits worth $160 million despite having exceeded the norm on several occasions. Agan Chemicals received $20 million and an extra bonus from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Commerce worth $64 million. Agan Chemicals owns several of the most polluting factories in Israel. On the municipal level, the report states that many local authorities prefer to accept what has come to be known as "local environmental offenses." Some even "encourage" such offenses since they fail to enforce law and order and at times even approve illegal activity retroactively. The Health Ministry rejected the allegations of poor water quality. "The standards in Israel match those in the United States and other European nations. In 2004, over 82,000 water samples were tested, out of which 99.5% did not exceed the norm," a statement issued by the ministry stated. According to the ministry, "When abnormal results are found, the Health Ministry immediately notifies the public via the media, informing residents of the specific region of the necessary steps needed to ensure water quality, such as boiling water." Union director, attorney Tzipi Issar-Itzik told Israel Radio that "a country needs to understand that dealing with poverty also entails dealing with environmental poverty." According to Issar-Itzik, "The public pays with his health, his finances and even his life for this pollution and there is no reason for it whatsoever." On a positive note, Issar-Itzik said that the level of environmental awareness appears to be on the rise. She said the union received more than double the number of complaints in the past year than in the previous one.