Hundreds of thousands of chicken carcasses were concealed for months alongside chicken coops in northern Israel, creating an environmental hazard and endangering the water supply, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The chickens were put down after an epidemic hit the area.

Following the discovery, the ministry demanded that the Agriculture Ministry stop allowing farmers to bury chicken carcasses near chicken coops, and instructed farmers to deposit the carcasses at regulated waste sites.

Looking at data accumulated by the Environmental Protection Ministry, it became clear that during the last farming season Newcastle Disease, a virus affecting poultry, had spread in the area.

Every day about two or three chicken coops were exterminated, containing tens of thousands of chickens. It is estimated that in the last few months, over 1.5 million chickens were put down.

The farmers concealed a large portion of the carcasses adjacent to the coops, in line with instructions given by the Ministry of Agriculture a few years ago, rather than transferring them to regulated waste sites, or to sites that process carcasses into agricultural fertilizer.

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, some of the carcasses were concealed in locations that were likely to risk contaminating ground water. The chickens were buried without suitable sealing, posing a risk that as the carcasses decomposed, constituents may permeate the ground water.

Last week, senior Environmental Protection Ministry officials approached Agriculture Ministry director general Yossi Yishai requesting he stop allowing carcasses from being buried next to coops.

The Ministry of Agriculture said in response that the instructions for dealing with Newcastle Disease were formed in accordance with international standards, which outline processes of putting down ill chickens. The central goal of the instructions is to speedily put down and bury infected flocks in order to prevent them from spreading the disease to well flocks.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there is a larger risk associated with transporting carcasses via numerous vehicles over long distances than burying them alongside the coops. Even so, if the ground next to the coops is not suitable for digging pits, and if the digging is likely to take an extended period of time, the carcasses are transferred to organized burial sites approved by the Environmental Protection Ministry.