Quite a few leading industrialists in Israel have been frustrated and embittered for a long while now, and not because of the economic crisis. They are convinced that they have recently become the friends and defenders of the environment, and cannot fathom why so many people in the general public and in environmental organizations continue to treat them with suspicion, and view industrial activity on more than one occasion as a real threat to their health.
After endless proclamations about new investments to prevent pollution, after instituting voluntary measures to deal with discarded packaging materials and releasing a series of reports on "environmental responsibility," industrialists like the heads of the oil refineries, chemical plants and bottling companies were certain they had proved the seriousness of their intentions.
However, it is difficult to convince people living in Haifa or Ashdod that you have gone "green" when ongoing air pollution and odors from some of the most profitable factories in the country, located in these areas, continue to be a real nuisance. Even the fact that the factories continue to claim that they are unable to improve land-based purification of their waste and receive permits from the state to channel it into the sea, has not helped convince the public of the seriousness of their intentions.
Such is the case for Agan, an Ashdod concern that produces weed killers. According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, the odors Agan emits are seriously damaging quality of life in Ashdod. According to the ministry, the oil refineries in Haifa have violated an order compelling the director of the refineries to set limits on permissible emissions. The oil refineries deny this allegation, but according to the ministry, which oversees them, the refineries are "one of the great contributors to low air quality in the region, and emit a surplus of thousands of tons of pollutants a year."
Industry representatives continue to obstruct almost every attempt to pass environmental legislation or make business licenses contingent on compliance with pollution regulations. Bottling companies have spared no effort to prevent the expansion of the deposit law on beverage containers, claiming that other solutions for the overall recycling of packaging materials are preferable.
To all this must be added the effect of the public's memory of the heavy environmental burden these industries - including government-owned industries - have created. The long-term pollution of streams and groundwater has made the public rightfully suspicious of every smoke-belching chimney. The impact of this cumulative damage is ongoing in some places, like the Kishon River or Nahariya, which was blighted by asbestos. Industry has not taken full responsibility for dealing with this damage.
If leaders of Israeli industry are serious about meeting European environmental standards, as they proclaim, they must create a situation whereby their waste is treated to a level that it can be channeled without concern into the sea or rivers. They should do this instead of channeling waste by special permit into the sea when it still contains hazardous materials that endanger the marine environment.
Industrialists must stop presenting themselves as doing the public a favor by investing in anti-pollution measures, and meet the demands set by the Environmental Protection Ministry. They must follow accepted global principles, such as the manufacturer's responsibility to deal with packaging refuse, as they have recently pledged to do. It is very difficult to restore public faith, which has already been compromised in Israel by serious environmental damage from various kinds of industrial pollution - but it is never too late to try.
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