Trouble in the Air for Jerusalem's Polluted Bus Station

Environmental ministry to investigate operators of capital's main bus depot.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has launched an investigation against the management of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, saying it failed to act on the ministry's demands over air pollution at the station.

Ever since the station was opened eight years ago, gases have been known to drift from the bus garage to the waiting areas, shops and the government offices in the station building. Air pollution is particularly bad at the platforms outside the waiting area and inside the garage.

bus - Tess Scheflan - August 27 2008
Tess Scheflan

After determining the levels of pollution through air quality inspections some eight months ago, the ministry issued the station with a new operating license, which included several guidelines on treating the pollution problem in the building.

The management was asked, among others, not to let passengers wait at the outside platforms; install additional air conditioners and vents; and install advanced air-monitoring systems. The management failed to follow through on these guidelines, despite ongoing negotiations. Three months ago, the offices of the Finance Ministry, the employment services and the courts operating in the building were evacuated following reports of particularly high pollution levels.

Last week, Dr. Dafna Alper Siman-Tov, head of air quality in the Jerusalem district at the ministry, wrote in response to student Danielle Schwartz, who complained about pollution at the station: "As you already know, we have issued the station with updated conditions and have made use of every enforcement process that we have. As the process is not to our satisfaction, we have transferred the issue to the care of the green police." The green police is empowered to launch a quasi-criminal investigation on failing to abide by the license rules.

"I travel through the Central Bus Station a lot and it always feels sickening," Schwartz said. "One day I was standing next to a pregnant woman and I saw she was almost fainting, and suddenly I understood we're in a polluted space." Schwartz said the problem was outside the waiting area. "There aren't enough buses, people wait in line and nobody wants to stay without a bus, so everybody goes outside into the garage," she said. "I tried starting a habit of waiting inside the building, but it didn't work."

"There's a popular notion that Israeli passengers are a captive audience and they can be given dirty air and poor service," said Yossi Saidov, a cofounder of the 15 Minutes organization for the rights of public transport passengers in Jerusalem.

"We've been working in a closed, polluted aquarium for eight years," a senior official at one of the ministry offices situated at the station told Haaretz. "We've been exposed to toxins, carcinogenic materials. Six people from my office are at home with pneumonia right now, and another one is sick with something we're not sure about. People throw up, have headaches, bouts of dizziness. I myself had three eye operations. The hospital documents said "reason unknown."

NZBE, the Egged bus cooperative real estate company, did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.