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Israel is a particularly comfortable country for companies such as Makhteshim-Agan, Oil Refineries and Dead Sea Works that profit from not being forced to comply with accepted international environmental quality standards. That is the claim advanced by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva v'Din) in its annual "environmental poverty" report, which it submitted to President Shimon Peres yesterday.

According to the report, every year large companies receive permits issued by an interministrial committee allowing them to dump waste into the Mediterranean Sea, despite the existence of technology for treating the waste on land. Furthermore, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has failed to set fees for dumping waste. As a result, the polluting companies save money both by not installing waste treatment facilities and by not being forced to pay for the cost of their legally-sanctioned pollution.

The report singles out dumping by Dead Sea Works into the Dead Sea, and by Ashdod's Agan Chemical Manufacturers into the Mediterranean. The report states that the latter received permission two years ago to dump 84 tons of waste including herbicides into the sea, but actually disposed of large quantities of waste that included materials for which no dumping permit was issued. Despite having allegedly violated the law, Agan Chemicals received a retroactive permit for the dumping and was not fined.

In the area of drinking water, the report claims that the government has failed to implement tighter standards recommended over two years ago by a Health Ministry committee. Similarly, the government has not implemented recommendations on improving waste treatment issued by a different committee of experts.

Makhteshim-Agan said in a response that the report is not based on fact, that the company is working to reduce the amount of waste being dumped, that it never dumped materials for which it did not have a permit and never received a retroactive dumping permit.