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A Technion project to study the health hazards of the Haifa Bay pollution has hit trouble after local factories reneged on a cooperation agreement.

The grave health hazards in the Haifa Bay area concern residents, and harm the region's image. However, the authorities, industrialists and environmental groups have failed to agree on who is responsible, and for what.

In response, scientists from the Technion's Samuel Neeman Institute initiated a project to evaluate the situation.

The scientists, led by Professor Yoram Avnimelech and Dr. Ofira Ayalon, intended to compare the Haifa Bay to similar regions in developed nations, pinpoint pollution sources and recommend ways to eliminate them. The plan also sought to determine the factors affecting public health, in order to attribute liability to local authorities or factories.

However, several months ago the industrialists reneged on their agreement to take part in the project, which included financial assistance.

"This means we'll have to forego some of the examinations and comparisons to other places in the world," said Ayalon.

The program was recently submitted to the Haifa municipality, in order to receive approval to proceed.

"We must find out the precise causes of pollution and whether we're monitoring and measuring the right things. For example, we have a study showing that formaldehyde concentrations are not high in Haifa compared to other places in the world, but there are lots of other substances to be examined," she said.

Two recently released studies link the air pollution to the relatively high incidences of illness in the Haifa Bay area. A University of Haifa study found higher concentrations of cancer patients near central roads, suggesting this could be related to pollution exposure. The other, a Health Ministry study, found a higher asthma rate in Haifa and concluded this could be connected to air pollution.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said it was implementing a plan to reduce air pollution in the Haifa Bay. Among other things, industrial facilities are now required to reduce pollution as a condition for receiving a business license, and efforts are being made to stop pipes from leaking pollutants.

The Chemical, Pharmaceutical and Environmental Society of the Israel Manufacturers Association said it had not received any word from the Neeman Institute about this issue.

"The IMA asked the institute to cooperate and negotiate between the public and industry in the past, but the institute's proposal included a methodology that did not suit the original request. We continue to act for open, honest negotiation."

The IMA urged the Environmental Protection Ministry to set up a national monitoring system, and said it would promote "comparative activity as required in the future."