Israeli Government Sending Mixed Messages on Haifa Pollution

After Health Ministry traces 15% of cancer cases in Haifa area to air pollution, Environment Ministry says certain kind of pollution has been drastically reduced.

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A view of Haifa Bay, which is home to much of Israel’s heavy industry, including the Haifa Oil Refineries.
A view of Haifa Bay, which is home to much of Israel’s heavy industry, including the Haifa Oil Refineries.Credit: Moran Mayan
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

There has been a 70 percent decrease in the pollution stemming from certain carcinogenic organic compounds in the Haifa Bay region in recent years, but the area is still a leader in pollution levels and additional measures to reduce pollution are needed, the Environmental Protection Ministry said Wednesday.

The drop in pollution is a result of the increased regulation of local industries and enforcement of anti-pollution laws, the ministry said.

It also said a report by the Health Ministry issued earlier this week, which said that about 15 percent of all cancer cases in the Haifa Bay area can be attributed to air pollution, was based on outdated pollution data that does not account for the improvements over the past decade. The country’s largest air-quality monitoring system operates in the Haifa Bay area and all its data is made public.

Nevertheless, the government still considers Haifa a leader in emissions pollution, and is drawing up recommendations for the next environment minister to declare the Haifa Bay area a “pollution-stricken area” under the Clean Air Law. This would pave the way for additional measures to reduce air pollution.

The pollution that has been reduced is primarily the type caused by local industry, like the oil refineries and petrochemical plants in the area. But Haifa Bay also suffers from high levels of vehicle pollution, which can also cause cancer.

Another potential source of pollution in the north is a plan to expand the oil refineries and build a new fuel storage compound in the area. Environmentalists say this will worsen the pollution problem, but the Environment Ministry has not objected to the plans.

Data from 2013 indicate the pollution level in the area caused by two carcinogenic compounds is four to six times higher than the level considered to be safe, the Health Ministry has said in a discussion of the refinery expansion.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently initiated legislation calling for stricter measures to prevent toxic pollutant emissions from refineries. The regulations will require upgraded controls for emissions that escape storage tanks, new restrictions for “flaring” to make sure waste gases are burned off properly, and new standards for coking units, which convert residual oil from the refining process into other materials.

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