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gas production facility 248.88.(Photo by: AP)
Ben-Eliezer launches investigation into gas leak
"Area is as dangerous as a nuclear bomb," minister declares after 3 killed in incident at oil refinery; initial results of probe to be presented to cabinet.
“This is not the first time that such an incident has occurred,” Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said on Wednesday, a day after a gas leak at the Oil Refineries Ltd. in Haifa killed three and injured eight, one seriously.

A third man succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday morning – Samer al-Hajj, 18, of Yafia, a village near Nazareth. Two cousins from the same village had also died in the leak: George Za’atrah, 31, and Tamer Marjiah, 33.

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Eight victims are still hospitalized, and the condition of one of them remains serious.

“I have been warning for years about the dangers of the area, which are like a nuclear bomb,” the minister said. “I hope that there is a timeline, due to the dangers of concentrations of toxic materials and dangerous factories in the area, to begin the careful move of the dangerous facilities over the coming years. I also exercised my authority when I was minister of national infrastructures to bring natural gas to the area, which will slightly lower the great danger there.

“We’re still investigating the causes of the accident, and we should remain cautious about it. If I see that the area continues to be a safety hazard, I’ll act to close it.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the families of those who were killed.

He said in a statement that he was taking the matter very seriously. He and Ben- Eliezer agreed that Ben- Eliezer would present the initial findings of his ministry’s investigation to the cabinet on Sunday.

The investigation into the incident “will check possible technical failures, professional failures, and possible violations of laws or safety regulations,” the ministry’s Chief Labor Inspector Yoram Elazar said in a phone interview with Bloomberg.

MK Dov Henin (Hadash) has scheduled an urgent hearing of the Knesset Health and Environment Committee for next Monday to discuss the situation as well as two leaks of bromine, an extremely hazardous chemical, earlier on Tuesday. Those leaks occurred at Haifa Port Company Ltd. and at Ramat Horav in the Negev, and both could have had lethal consequences.

An Oil Refineries spokesman contacted by Bloomberg declined to say whether the company planned to delay the plant’s reopening as a result of the fatal leak. A spokesman said on Tuesday night that the men were part of a crew doing periodic maintenance on the plant, which had been temporarily shut down.

The team had been provided with proper safety gear, including masks, according to the spokesman.

The company had been scheduled to do complete a “turnaround” at its Haifa units in the first 10 days of December, Chief Executive Officer Yashar Ben- Mordechai told Bloomberg on Monday. Work on units at the refinery, including a catalytic regeneration plant and hydrogen facility, started at the end of October. The refinery has the capacity to process 197,000 barrels of crude oil a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The series of breakdowns yesterday, which ended with the deaths in Haifa, have raised serious questions about the handling of hazardous materials.

News agencies contributed to this report.
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