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The National Planning and Building Council committee overseeing Israel's coal power stations, which produce hundreds of thousands of tons of ash, recently decided to dispose of the by-product by adding it to fertilizer.

However, the Health Ministry wants the final decision to be delayed until the environmental and health impacts of such use can be gauged, because of toxic metals and radioactive materials in the ash.

Coal ash is already added to construction materials and road beds. The oversight committee recently approved adding the ash to the sludge of the Dan region's waste to upgrade its quality. At the Dan region's waste treatment plant, a facility is under construction to turn sludge into fertilizer by adding lime, ash and coal as stabilizers.

However, the Health Ministry has asked the oversight committee to delay the process, "until the health implications of spreading it in fields where food crops are growing can be determined," Health Ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron-Grinbaum said in a statement.

Omri Lulav, head of the National Coal Ash Board, contests the Health Ministry's stand.

"We have recently presented the research and tests we did, which clearly show there is no risk whatsoever to using coal ash in terms of concentrations of toxic metals. The claim regarding radioactive materials is baseless."

Lulav also said the coal ash constituted less than one percent of the sludge mix.

The Environmental Protection Ministry confirmed yesterday that it was one of the bodies that had authorized the addition of the coal ash, for a period of three years from the beginning of the facility's operation.

"The decision to approve the use was widely agreed on by a committee of scientific experts of the National Coal Ash Board," the ministry said in a statement. "The ministry was shown the results of studies that show that the ash does not constitute a health or environmental risk and that it is useful to agriculture. The release of toxic materials is below maximum allowable levels. Moreover, the use of the ash reduces fissures in the soil and therefore streamlines water use. With regard to radioactivity, the issue was studied in a project which ash was used as a bed for plants, and no reason not to use it was found."