Ecological activists - Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ecological activists in Sde Brir, near Arad, this week. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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The Health Ministry, following the lead of Europe and North America, is proposing mandated health risk assessments prior to approval of building plans for projects like factories, quarries and power stations. This week a subcommittee of the National Building and Planning Council will discuss the ministry's proposal.

According to a document prepared by the Health Ministry for the discussion, various kinds of building plans necessitate risk assessment of their ramifications for health. For the assessments, data will be gathered on possible damage by various pollutants and alternatives for diminishing risk. Such risk assessments have become routine in the United States. This applies mainly to industrial facilities and to infrastructure like roads.

In the first phase, the ministry is proposing risk assessment for five projects to test the effectiveness of the method and to bring it in line with other environmental laws. Its representative on a planning committee will request a risk assessment if it seems the building plan will have a significant effect on public health. The criteria for this will be determined in coordination with the interior and environmental protection ministries.

The risk assessment will indicate locations of sensitive populations like children or the elderly people or where medical institutions and the less well-off may face difficulty in dealing with environmental risks.

The assessment will also detail health side effects attributed to pollutants and the ways the population will be exposed - with an assessment of increased morbidity or mortality rates. This could mean developers will have to detail means for decreasing risks.

For quite some time, environmental organizations in Israel have been saying it is necessary to bring to Israel a tool for evaluating health risks. Ronit Piso, director of the Coalition for Public Health said on Sunday in response to the Health Ministry proposal: "The suggested procedure deals with the problem to some extent but it is not sufficient. It is very important to ensure there will be additional job slots and manpower to help in the follow-up of assessments."

Health risks came to public attention in the approving of a Rotem Amfert Negev Ltd. plan for a new phosphate quarry near Arad, at Sde Brir. No orderly risk assessment was conducted, and a dispute is now raging between the area inhabitants and the developers over contradictory expert opinions.