Chemicals Firm Hid Dangerous Leak in Haifa Plant, Says Environment Ministry

Dor Chemicals rebuffs charge of cover-up of leak, discovered during surprise check; ministry plans to take action against company.

Hagai Frid

The Dor Chemicals company recently tried to hide a dangerous chemical leak from its plant in the Haifa Bay area, the Environmental Protection Ministry has charged. For its part, the company, owned by businessman Gil Dankner, denied that there was any attempt at a cover-up and insisted that the incident did not endanger the environment. However, the ministry said it plans to institute proceedings against the company.

The leakage was discovered by chance about six weeks ago, when ministry inspectors made a surprise visit to the plant and inspected one of its chimneys. The plant produces chemicals for use in the chemical, pharmaceutical, agricultural and plastics industries, and the chimney in question is part of a facility that processes hazardous waste from other companies for reuse.

During the visit, the inspectors noted a strong smell that seemed to be coming from the factory floor. Consequently, they inspected the area – first donning protective suits and gas masks – where they discovered a leak from a cracked pipe. Next, they collected samples of the leaked substance, but claimed they were hampered in this effort by factory employees, who tried to clean up the spill using chemical cleaning agents.

On Sunday, the ministry announced that one of the materials discovered at the site was toluene, a dangerous industrial compound. Even very brief exposure to toluene can cause headaches and dizziness, and prolonged exposure to high concentrations of the chemical can lead to loss of consciousness and even brain damage.

The ministry said it views the incident as being especially grave because it occurred in a facility licensed by the ministry to handle hazardous waste from other companies.

Dor Chemicals said in response: “About 50 days ago, there was a breakdown in the industrial timer, and as a result, a mere 15 liters worth of a mixture comprised of drainage water and alcohols – which is not dangerous to either human beings or the environment – drained into a standard spill-containment pallet. The problem was dealt with and fixed on the spot. The timer was replaced, the area was cleaned, and it’s impossible to view this as a security incident that required any kind of report. There was no attempt to hide anything or to prevent the inspection. The opposite is true.

“The ministry staffers who visited the company received full assistance and cooperation. The company operates according to law and abides by all safety regulations. Just two weeks ago, during a conference in Haifa that was organized in conjunction with representatives of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the company was cited favorably for its efforts to improve the quality of the environment.”