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The Environmental Protection Ministry is promoting a bill that will for the first time ever formalize regulations to prevent asbestos exposure. The new bill stipulates that use of the substance will no longer be permitted in Israel and that within up to 10 years, the use of all crushable asbestos will be halted. In addition, the import of asbestos and its byproducts will be prohibited.

A memorandum on the proposed bill, which was recently sent to legal experts and professionals in various government ministries, stipulates a gradual reduction in the still permitted uses of asbestos, as well as its immediate removal from any public structures and industrial enterprises. The bill also proposes to establish a fund to deal with asbestos stockpiles. Half of the fund will be financed by Eitanit, the company that up until a decade ago manufactured asbestos at its Nahariya plant.

The new bill was drafted after Environmental Protection Ministry officials realized that they had only partial authority to deal with the hazardous substance, which was widely used in the past for insulation. Once the bill becomes law, it will allow for stiff fines of hundreds of thousands of shekels to be imposed on those responsible for asbestos damage, and even assigning criminal responsibility and issuing punishments of up to two years in jail to those who continue to import, manufacture or use the substance.

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry's assessment, there are hundreds of millions of square meters of built-up areas that contain asbestos compounds. Dismantling such structures could spread lethal fibers, which - if inhaled - significantly raises the risk of developing malignant, incurable illnesses. As such, dozens of Israelis suffer from mesothelioma, a fatal disease caused by exposure to asbestos. According to expert assessments, the incidence of this disease in the western Galilee, where the only asbestos plant in Israel used to operate, is 40 times higher than the standard rate around the world.

"If there is asbestos blight, we currently have no efficient legal means of bringing an end to it," says Tamar Bar On, who oversees the treatment of hazardous dust at the Environmental Protection Ministry. "The new bill alters the situation. Among other things, it requires that information about the presence of asbestos be published. Therefore, someone buying or renting a property can be aware of the presence of the substance." According to Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, this is a revolutionary bill and he plans to work toward achieving its passage immediately after the next Knesset convenes.