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Children living in the Haifa Bay area are exposed to substantially more pollution and suffer significantly higher rates of illness than children elsewhere in the country.

This was one of the main conclusions in a special report released yesterday by the Coalition for Public Health, which assesses the risks to children's health in the Haifa area. While not based on any new data, the report offers analyses of existing figures and also relevant information from the Ministries of Health and the Environment.

According to the report, Haifa Bay is different from other large urban centers in Israel because a large proportion of its pollution comes from industrial plants involved in the production of fuel and electricity - not from traffic. For example, two years ago, industry was responsible for nearly 90 percent of the polluting particles that were tiny enough to be able to enter the lungs via inhalation. Moreover, the report stated that industry was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the organic materials found in the air in Haifa, some of which are carcinogenic.

Children are known to be particularly sensitive to airborne pollutants. Exposure to them may stunt their development and lead to an accumulation in the body of large concentrations of toxic materials. In recent years, based on Health Ministry data, the rate of respiratory illnesses among children has reportedly been higher in the Haifa Bay area than elsewhere. The authors of the report argue that this can be attributed to the children's heightened exposure to polluted air.

The report also focuses on the particularly high concentration of nickel in the atmosphere in Haifa Bay, as compared to other urban areas in the Middle East. Nickel enters the air in a variety of ways, but most commonly through the burning of mazut fuel oil, used for producing electricity.

"Toxic materials are poured into the atmosphere in our area, and some of them are proven carcinogens," the report stated. "Some of the [other materials] are suspected of being carcinogenic and others affect the immune system, the reproductive system and the hormonal system. Many pollutants affect the nervous system. The unusually polluted air has persisted for generations, and regulations were not enforced in factories; they were not forced to introduce modern equipment and technologies for reducing pollution."

The new report argues that one of the main sources of pollution in Haifa Bay is the Israel Refineries compound.

Recently the company reported that it has adopted measures for reducing air pollution, including installation of a system for identifying sources of pollutants in and around its compound, not just in its chimneys. Moreover, special covers have been installed over the fuel tanks in order to prevent evaporation of polluting gases.

The company also announced that it has completed preparations for using natural gas instead of mazut, but there have been delays in construction of the underground pipes that will carry the gas to the Haifa Bay plants.