Something's rotten, literally, in the town of Yad Binyamin

Noxious fumes from sewage plant no one can afford to fix has Gush Katif evacuees staying indoors.

Yad Binyamin sewage 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yad Binyamin sewage 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gush Katif evacuees have a host of resettlement issues. But the ones in Yad Binyamin - some 120 families - have had to contend with even more than the psychological, emotional, financial and social issues other former Gush Katif residents have been facing. The area in Yad Binyamin where the bulk of that community's Gush Katif evacuees have been placed is adjacent to a sewage treatment plant. A noxious smell pervades the area, which was declared hazardous by the Health Ministry. "This represents a serious environmental and health detriment to the residents of the area," the health ministry said in a report last month. "It is impossible to carry on with the current situation." The report explained that the sewage plant of Yad Binyamin, a religious Sabra and Anglo community east of Gedera, in the Nahal Sorek region, was not working properly. The plant had not undergone proper maintenance and did not decontaminate waste in accordance with the law. Furthermore, it was not equipped to handle the volume of incoming waste it currently treated. This report followed series of tests of the sewage plant in January, which was prompted by a letter last September to local authorities from Anat Rozen, a consultant for environmental issues in the area. Rozen said there was an acute concern that the plant might be leaking cancer-causing toxins into the air. An air quality report conducted in late January concluded the air contained too much of the toxic chemical hydrogen sulfide. Among themselves, the Gush Katif families, from Ganei Tal and other former settlements and Neveh Dekalim's Yeshivat Torat Chaim, acknowledge the problem, but they don't want to talk about it openly. One Yad Binyamin couple, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue and their relationship with the authorities, left Beit Shemesh for Yad Binyamin about six months ago. Prior to their move, they visited the community a number of times to choose a place to live, oversee the 18-month construction of their house and check out the surrounding area. At that point, everything seemed to be fine. But once they moved, the overpowering smells emanating from the malfunctioning sewage plant about 500 meters from their home severely influenced their quality of life. "There have been numerous times when we simply could not be outside due to the rank stench, that went beyond rotten eggs to something close to living in a public toilet," the husband said in an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post. "People always want to ask why we can see lakes so near the house with huge pipes coming out of them," he said. "That is if we can get them here because they know we live in the smelliest part of the yishuv." The couple live with their two children in Dona Gimmel, the section of Yad Binyamin closest to the sewage plant. The only ones who live closer to the plant are the Gush Katif evacuees. According to residents, those who live closest to the plant or directly down-wind receive the full force of the noxious fumes. Some resort to wearing air-filter masks, even in their own homes. Residents say that in addition, until a few months ago, factories and farms from nearby communities were illegally dumping their waste there. Eli Eskozido, mayor of the Nahal Sorek Regional Council, has been working to resolve the issue. A few months ago, they stopped the illegal dumping of waste from a factory in the nearby Kibbutz Hafetz Haim. Before that, nearly all of Yad Binyamin was frequently subjected to the noxious smell. "It was revolting," said Miriam Lottner, a mother of two who lives closer to the center of the community. "It was so bad that you just couldn't walk outside. You felt like you were living in a garbage dump." Once the offending factory was shut down, the smell improved, said Lottner. However, it was not eradicated entirely, and Lottner knows that on the days when the smell reaches her part of Yad Binyamin, the Dona Gimmel residents are really being hit hard. "That only helped a little bit, but not enough," Eskozido told the Post regarding the closing of the Hafetz Haim factory. Eskozido spoke with Health Ministry director-general Avi Israeli on Wednesday, asking for at least a temporary emergency solution to the issue until a more permanent one is implemented. He is still awaiting Israeli's response. Some in Yad Binyamin say the issue has been further aggravated because the plant was not meant to serve so many people. But following both Gedera and Yad Binyamin's recent expansions, in addition to the influx of Gush Katif families, the sewage plant was simply overtaxed. One solution, proposed by the Health Ministry, is to divert the sewage to functioning plants nearby. But that could cost millions of shekels, and a lot of money has already been put into trying to rectify the problem. Avi Rosenfeld, a Yad Binyamin resident who decided to take action, has been working alongside the municipality to help resolve the sewage plant problem. He said part of the issue was that while there was a lot of finger-pointing, no one - not the local environmental unit, not the municipalities of Gedera and Nahal Sorek, not the engineer of the plant - was willing or able to foot the bill. In addition, a lot of money has been poured into the plant already. It was upgraded in 1996, and was meant to accommodate 40,000 residents. Now there are about 70,000 residents. "After upgrade two, it stopped spewing near my house," Rosenfeld said of the sewage plant. "But I drove by the plant, and the fact is it stinks and it shouldn't." The Health Ministry gave a two-month deadline for proposed solution to the problem. That deadline is coming up in just two weeks. Until something is done, Yad Binyamin and Gush Katif families continue to suffer. It is unfortunate, because the Beit Shemesh couple feel that Yad Binyamin is a wonderful community, and that their experience is being tainted by the sewage plant. "The wonderful life we have here," said the husband, "is made so hard by the daily troubles with the sewage plant."