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The air quality in the Haifa Bay area is better than it is in the Dan Region, Jerusalem and Ashdod, a Haifa-based environmental union found.

Furthermore, the dominant source of pollution in Israel is vehicles, which are responsible for emissions of nitrous oxide and particles, according to data from the group the Guardians of the Bay Area, and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Both in 2005 and 2006, deviations from air quality standards were observed in Jerusalem and in the Dan Region three to four times more than in the Haifa Bay area.

For years, Haifa was considered a polluted city due to its proximity to the oil refineries and petrochemical plants in the Haifa Bay. However, the Bay Guardians data indicate that Haifa has better air quality than other large Israeli cities do. The main reason for it is the increase in the number of cars - a primary source of air pollution - in other areas. In the Haifa area, there are currently some 200,000 vehicles, which are responsible for 44 percent of the nitrous oxide in the bay. In addition, vehicular transportation is responsible for 18 percent of all particle emissions and 24 percent of the organic compounds that evaporate into the air.

"People think Haifa has the worst air quality in Israel, but that is simply incorrect," says the deputy director general of the Haifa Union of Cities, Dr. Bernanda Felikstein. "Ask anyone about deviations in Israel and he will point to Haifa and the Haifa Bay. No one would believe that the situation here is better than in Gush Dan or Jerusalem."

Despite the encouraging figures, Felikstein says one should not conclude that the industries in Haifa are doing enough. "Industry must reduce pollution to the lowest possible level, and it is not doing so. Industry is not applying advanced emission standards. The fact that air quality in Haifa is good cannot be a reason why industry doesn't have to improve in this area," she says. Even the talk about the fact that in 2009 natural gas will be imported for use in the area does not convince her. "For years I've been hearing, 'natural gas is coming any day now.' Even if it comes, it doesn't solve the problem of nitrous oxide emissions," Felikstein said.