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Almost half the gas stations in Israel that have been checked are leaking fuel from pipes or tanks into the aquifer, according to a report published yesterday by the Environment Ministry. Environment Minister Shalom Simchon said in response he would work to establish a government fund to clean up land polluted by the fuel.

In tests carried out between 1998-2004, leaks were found in 45 percent of the 658 stations, mainly from pipes.

The Quality and Reliability Research Center (QRRC) of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa estimates that between half-a-million and a million-and-a-half liters of gas leaks from public gas stations per year.

In response to the Environment Ministry report, the head of the oil companies association, Yaakov Friedgut, said yesterday the problem of the leaky pipes was mainly in older stations, and added that the association would establish the cleanup fund jointly with the Environment Ministry.

In a number of gas stations checked by the ministry, a layer of fuel up to a meter thick was found floating on the ground water.

Tests done by the Health Ministry revealed fuel in 11 percent of the wells in the Tel Aviv area.