A gas station in Haifa.
Sunday's Value Added Tax (VAT) hike also pushed fuel prices up. Photo by Moran Maayan
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The Environmental Protection Ministry's report for 2011 points to long-standing pollution trends and the difficulties the ministry faces in tackling them. Specifically, the report highlights the damage to ground water near gas stations, land pollution in most sites that were examined, and difficulties in conducting environmental reports on lands owned by the Defense Ministry.

The ministry has launched an effort to deal with pollution caused by older gas stations ¬ those constructed before new regulations were set to prevent pollution emissions, the report says. Together with the larger gas companies, surveys of the land and ground water were held around some 202 stations, finding that the land was polluted in 90 percent of the cases, while in roughly one-third of the cases, ground water was polluted. At some stations, ministry employees have begun dealing with the problem, the report noted.

The ministry is also monitoring 495 gas stations operating up to 40 meters from populated areas, and therefore defined as "sensitive," according to the report. Most of these stations have already been ordered to install systems to prevent emission of toxic gas fumes. The report's data shows the ministry now monitors 13,000 businesses, some of which have far-reaching environmental impact. These businesses include hundreds of metal and chemical plants, 120 factories that direct salt wastes to the sea, and 38 waste transfer stations.

In the report, ministry officials welcomed the Defense Ministry's agreement to carry out 17 surveys in military industry sites. The Defense Ministry has also declared that it plans to construct a plant for burning explosives, which would prevent the accumulation of explosives in a manner that harms the land. The report adds that pollution was found in 407 sites out of 689 monitored. The Environmental Protection Ministry says it plans to monitor some 700 more sites suspected of causing pollution.

Last year, the ministry undertook a project to purify Western Galilee land from asbestos, a program that will probably take years. According to the data, 36 sites in the area were already purified at a cost of NIS 30 million. Last year the ministry approved 1,600 similar projects throughout the country.

Among the challenges to come, the report says military industry has yet to agree to carry out pollution surveys in all the sites where it was previously active. The ministry has also failed to secure budgets for helping small and medium-sized plants deal with environmental demands. The ministry says that the quality of salt wastes from food industry plants is substandard, and that due to a shortage in manpower, the ministry is limited in its ability to deal with many asbestos-related problems, and with some of the gas stations.