Comptroller: State bodies not doing enough to repair environmental contamination

Report says Israel Military Industries and Israel Aerospace Industries sites pose public health hazards that must be rectified.

polluted stream 311 (photo credit: Zalul)
polluted stream 311
(photo credit: Zalul)
The long-standing failure of Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to rehabilitate areas polluted by their factory contaminants poses a public health hazard that must be rectified immediately, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira declared in his latest report issued on Wednesday.
The State Comptroller’s Office reviewed the behavior of IMI – a government company that operates as the military and industrial support unit of the Defense Ministry – intermittently from November 2011 through July 2012, examining the firm’s failure to evacuate and clean up its long abandoned Haifa site.
In addition, the audit evaluated IMI’s mismanagement of the perchlorate pollution flowing from the company’s Givon plant toward Rehovot, as well as the Environmental Protection Ministry and Water Authority’s failure to curb this situation. From March to July 2012, the state comptroller also analyzed IAI operational units that have been contaminating Ben-Gurion Airport sewage facilities.
An IMI military vehicle production site in Haifa closed down in the early 2000s, leaving the site rife with environmental hazards, according to the state comptroller.
By the time of the audit’s completion in July 2012, the firm still had not budgeted a plan for the site’s evacuation and decontamination, despite an IMI board of directors decision from March 2006.
Stressing that this situation constitutes an “environmental hazard,” the state comptroller concluded that it is “vital that IMI and the Defense Ministry will work – each in its area of responsibility – without additional delay toward the decontamination.”
Further south, at its Givon plant near Ramle, IMI has been facing other serious problems since at least the summer of 2005. At that time, the Water Authority detected the presence of perchlorate – a toxic salt that frequently contaminates public water systems around the world – in water wells used for irrigation in the hills west of the factory, according to the state comptroller.
The rate of contamination spread was very rapid, with the toxin flowing from Givon toward the drinking-water production wells in eastern Rehovot.
Equally problematic is the fact that the contaminated water is being used to irrigate orange trees in the area, and the state comptroller warned that farmers must immediately cease using this water.
By the end of the audit in July 2012, the Water Authority had not finished its pollution identification and demarcation efforts, and therefore has been unable to provide a risk assessment or plan for curtailing the spread, the audit said.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Ministry received information about the groundwater contamination originating from Givon, the office did take part in the case until January 2011, the report added.
Warning that the situation presents a “danger to public health, damage to natural water sources that are scarce” and will require expensive rehabilitation, the state comptroller demanded that “every institution associated with the pollution caused to the land by IMI must act immediately to prevent the continued spread of contamination.”
In response to the state comptroller’s recommendations, a statement from IMI said that the company is “working on the issue of the environment, according to the most stringent of standards customary of security companies in the Western world.”
The Environmental Protection Ministry said that the Water Authority is leading the treatment effort, and that the ministry has contacted the authority many times to accelerate the effort.
As the institution that discovered the Givon infection, the Water Authority stressed that it is “the only regulatory body acting to identify sources of pollution, conduct risk assessments and perform detailed groundwater investigations toward preparing and implementing rehabilitation plans.”
Because for decades various factories have been polluting the environment and groundwater all over Israel, treatment of the contaminants takes a long time and requires large budgets that are not always readily available, the authority said.
In addition to the focus on the pollution caused by IMI, the IAI company likewise came under fire in the state comptroller’s report for failing to properly restrain contaminants from flowing out of its own systems and causing damage to the Ben-Gurion Airport wastewater treatment facility.
Deviating from the mandated quality standards for wastewater constitutes a violation of the business licenses granted by the Interior Ministry’s licensing authority, the audit added.
Only in early 2011 did the Environmental Protection Ministry demand that IAI perform a comprehensive historical land survey, the state comptroller said. Although IAI completed and submitted the survey to the ministry in June 2011, by the end of the audit in July 2012, the ministry had yet to finish its evaluations, according to the report. It is therefore impossible to quantify the extent of the soil and groundwater contamination and the accompanying environmental implications, the state comptroller explained.