Israel’s fuel-pollution problem has been similar over the past decade as it is now in the area racked by an oil spill, Water Authority data show.
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Over the past decade or so, 2.5 million liters of fuel have been cleaned up at a third of locations known to be polluted. This compares with the 3 million liters estimated to have spilled due to the pipeline burst near Eilat in the south last week.
The Water Authority only began monitoring such pollution in 2004; it has since required companies to address the problem. Israel has 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) of fuel pipelines and 19 fuel-storage facilities, each with a capacity of tens of thousands of cubic meters.
Israel also has about 1,000 retail gas stations, 180 other gas stations, an unknown number of pirate gas stations and tanks at various plants, military bases and residential sites — both above- and belowground.
By the end of 2013, the Water Authority had drilled at 640 fuel-storage sites to monitor pollution. It detected pollution at 190 locations, the vast majority involving pollution of groundwater, the authority has said in a report.
Last year, groundwater pollution was found at all 14 gas stations investigated. In recent years, gasoline has been found to have polluted 10 wells up to 400 meters away used for drinking water.
Also last year, large quantities of fuel were extracted from the grounds of the Haifa oil refinery and state-owned company Petroleum & Energy Infrastructures.
Cleanup operations have been carried out at nearly a third of the polluted locations. Since the middle of the past decade, more than 2.5 million liters of polluting fuel has been cleaned up — close to the 3 million liters afflicting the Arava nature reserve near Eilat.
Among 17 fuel-storage facilities inspected, 13 were polluted. Among seven pipelines, five had pollution problems.
At many polluted sites, fuel floats on groundwater. Some of this fuel has broken down and mixed with the water.
A badly afflicted site was discovered back in 1983 at the Hatzor air base south of Tel Aviv. The problem was addressed partly due to pressure from groups such as the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, which six years ago filed a petition to the High Court of Justice.
According to the Water Authority, efforts to clean up Hatzor began about two years ago. Pollution dozens of centimeters deep was found in groundwater.
The area affected was also larger than initially thought. The cleanup will require pumping in order to lower the groundwater level by two meters to ensure that the fuel has been extracted.
Fuel components are considered carcinogenic and can affect the nervous and immune system, as well as cause fertility problems. As a result, Israel has set strict water-quality standards.
But the Water Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry are concerned that even a small quantity of fuel can pollute large amounts of water if the fuel seeps into the groundwater.