Public Health Coalition slams gov't on air quality

NGO criticizes Environmental Protection Ministry for abandoning Clean Air Law as well as public health.

Haifa air pollution 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Haifa air pollution 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The Public Health Coalition slammed the Environmental Protection Ministry, in a report released Sunday, for failing to live up to its commitments as prescribed in the Clean Air Law.
Two years after the Clean Air Law came into force, the NGO criticized the ministry and the government at large for abandoning the law as well as public health.
The Clean Air Law came into force in January 2011, and the law required the implementation of a National Air Pollution Reduction Program within the following year. While planned by the Environmental Protection Ministry, the program has yet to receive government approval – a failure that the Public Health Coalition reiterated is “against the law.”
“There is real concern that in light of the upcoming elections, the program will be dissolved and not even implemented, or will be approved eventually in a truncated version that will not achieve the goals of the program,” a statement from the NGO said.
“The Environmental Protection Ministry is afraid to intervene and to implement environmental aspects in fields that concern other ministries, such as public transportation, motor vehicles, natural gas and electricity.”
Despite the recommendations of an expert committee as well as clear cost-benefit analyses, the program has yet been unable to receive authorization, the report explained.
The report went on to criticize the ministry for failing to take air pollution samples with as much regularity as the office had promised, and went as far as to say that the low execution rate actually “harms” the country’s decision-making process.
Meanwhile, the Public Health Coalition charged that the pollutants monitored in Israel do not properly reflect the needs of public health, with those already reduced continuing to receive monitoring in favor of other more dangerous contaminants.
The NGO likewise slammed the ministry for failing to provide easy accessibility to air quality data, only releasing materials in raw form without explanation or interpretation.
The report also blasted the ministry for failing to deem Haifa a region plagued by air pollution this year, despite its decision in 2011 to do so. In addition to Haifa, the regions of Gush Dan and Jerusalem also must receive such a status.
In response, the Environmental Protection Ministry accused the Public Health Coalition of presenting a paper strewn with inaccuracies.
“While some people are busy writing a report that is not clear upon what it is based, the Environmental Protection Ministry is working and succeeding in reducing air pollution using a variety of tools,” a statement from the ministry said.
For example, in the past year, the Haifa Bay region has experienced a 43-percent reduction in air pollution from emissions, in comparison to 2009, the year prior to the Clean Air Law, the ministry explained.
As far as emissions from transportation are concerned, the ministry launched an “all-out war” this year against the country’s plans for natural gas export in favor of prioritizing the resource for use in transportation at home, the office added.
The ministry said it maintains a website open to the public, with real-time data from air quality monitoring stations around the country. Feeding data to that site are 140 monitoring stations operating 24 hours per day, which measure pollutants according to European standards, the ministry said.
The Environmental Protection Ministry can only declare the area as polluted when it is deemed to possess “prolonged or repeated abnormalities” or if the directorgeneral of the Health Ministry decides that the city’s air is polluted, the ministry said, citing the Clean Air Law. Because Haifa does not qualify as a city whose abnormalities are “prolonged or repeated,” without the direction of the Health Ministry, the Environmental Protection Ministry cannot designate the city as having polluted air, the ministry explained.
Looking specifically at the office’s work against air pollutants in the Haifa Bay region, the Environmental Protection Ministry also was instrumental in a historic decision for the future removal of a massive ammonia tank from the city, the statement said.
“It is apparent that the authors of the ‘report’ did not bother to check the Environmental Protection Ministry website before spreading their claims,” the ministry statement said. “By conducting a simple examination, they could have discovered that all requests for factory emissions permits are published on the ministry website for public viewing.”