Tel Aviv haze - Moti Milrod - May 3, 2012
Haze envelopes Tel Aviv. Photo by Moti Milrod
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After hours of inspections, tests and visits to various sites, the Environmental Protection Ministry still has no clue as to the cause of the acrid odor that enveloped the center of Israel on Thursday.

Almost 2,000 complaints were received yesterday by the ministry, from residents ranging from Tel Aviv to Ra'anana. Several ministry crews in mobile units, complete with equipment for monitoring and determining irregular concentrations of dangerous chemicals, set out to investigate - but achieved no results. Since some of the complaints mentioned similar odors to these emitted by chlorine or bromine, the ministry crews tested for these chemicals but found no irregular concentrations.

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The ministry could only conclude that a chemical from an unknown source was emitted in the morning hours, and due to meteorologic conditions that caused a stable layer of air in central Israel, hung in the atmosphere. Ministry officials tried to investigate several possibilities - including warehouses storing pesticides, sewage treatment installations and pesticide spraying in fields - but could not uncover the source of the stench.

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During the evening hours the possibility that it was caused by chemicals used to disinfect land near Ramat Hasharon was also discarded. Another possibility, also later discarded, was that methane, an odorless gas, was emitted from an oil drilling rig in the Mediterranean and drifted toward central Israel, creating a chemical reaction with polluting substances in the air - but none of the drilling companies reported any malfunction causing gas emissions.

Citizens who called the Tel Aviv municipality's emergency hotline received a recorded message: "Dear citizens, at this point in time there is an unidentified odor in the city. The professional responsible bodies are investigating, and there is no need to report the smell. Please follow announcements in the media later on."

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None of the affected municipalities published any special instructions to deal with the situation.

A short time after the complaints began the IDF's Home Front Command informed the municipalities that the source of the odor was probably gas drilling in the Nitzanim area, but an IDF spokesperson later clarified that this was not the case.