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The Manufacturers Association of Israel has adopted a signpost design based on a Scandinavian model as part of its activity to preserve the environment. However, environmental groups say that industrial pollution in Israel still far exceeds Scandinavian standards.

The MAI announced yesterday that the Transportation Ministry agreed to replace the traffic sign indicating an industrial area - depicting a factory with a smoking chimney - with a drawing of a plant with a non-smoking chimney. The MAI said that the sign with the smoke-blowing chimney does not reflect the situation in the plants, and does industrialists an injustice. "We are acting to advance and preserve clean air, among other things by legislation and proper standards," the MAI statement said.

Industrial plants have invested $750 million in the past three years in pollution-preventing facilities, reducing pollution by 95 percent, the statement claimed.

However, tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Ministry to monitor pollution discharge show that 60 percent of the 50 plants monitored in 2007 emitted more than the permitted pollution from their chimneys, exceededing the previous year's amount. For example, a plant in Hadera's industrial park exceeded the emission level of nitrous oxides, pollutants clearly seen in the smoke blowing out of its chimneys.

A test conducted by the Haifa Bay Urban Association for Environmental Protection two and a half years ago showed that the city's oil refineries discharged pollution levels four times higher than in the Netherlands and Belgium. An experts' committee checking Haifa bay's environmental quality said the illness and mortality rate in the area is high compared to other regions in Israel, and could be linked to environmental pollution.

The oil refineries recently presented plans to set up additional facilities to reduce the pollutant emissions. According to the existing law the refineries are adhering to the Environmental Protection Ministry's pollution-control requirements, but environmental groups say these requirements are less exacting than in Europe.

It has transpired in recent years that pollution is not emitted from plants' chimneys alone, but also from their plumbing systems and faucet connections. The plants have begun dealing with this problem only in the last two years.

"The figures we have, based on the Environmental Protection Ministry's findings, show that manufacturers still don't know how to keep the air clean. Changing the image on traffic signs won't change reality," said Dr. James Krikun, chairman of the Coalition for Public Health in the Haifa area. "In Israel the rate of industrial pollution emitted per square kilometer is 20 times higher than in Europe."