Haifa Scrap Metal Fire Causes Locals to Flee Due to Pollution

Ten firefighting crews spend several hours bringing the blaze, which created a great deal of smoke and a sharp odor, under control.

Israel Fire and Rescue Services Spokesperson

A fire broke out on Wednesday at a collection site for waste metal in Haifa. It took 10 firefighting crews several hours to bring the blaze, which created a great deal of smoke and a sharp odor, under control. Although officials of the Environmental Protection Ministry suspect that the fire, on Salman Street near Shemen Beach, was the result of arson, officials of the Fire and Rescue Services said that its origin could not yet be determined.

A monitoring and risk-assessment team from the Environmental Protection Ministry found high levels of organic pollutants in the air at a range of roughly 150 meters downwind from the fire. As a result, workers in the area, including at a garage belonging to the Haifa municipality, a large courier company and nearby factories, were ordered to evacuate, though it was made clear that the adjacent buildings were in no danger. When firefighters brought the blaze under control, Environmental Protection Ministry officials announced that air pollution levels were no longer abnormally high.

Officials of the Haifa District Municipal Association for Environmental Protection said nothing unusual had been recorded by air-pollution monitors after the fire “since the wind was blowing seaward and the smoke dispersed high above the population centers.” Representatives of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Fire and Rescue Services, the police and the Haifa environmental unit asked the public to stay away from the area.

Uri Chobotaro, a spokesman for the Haifa District Fire and Rescue Service, said the thick smoke could be seen clearly from a distance and that the operations room of the Haifa regional fire station had been flooded with phone calls from local residents. “The root of the problem in a fire like this is that the waste has not been sorted and it is not clean iron, but rather a pile of car junk that contains bits of rubber, plastic components, fabrics, oils, batteries and such, that, on burning, emit various kinds of toxins that create a great deal of smoke and contain toxic organic materials.”

Liora Amitai, director of the Coalition for Public Health, said, “This is an ongoing failure at that location. People complain all the time about smoke rising from there.”

In June, a fire burned for a week at an illegal dumping site near Haifa’s sewage-treatment plant, located in farmland belonging to Kibbutz Yagur near the city of Nesher, before being brought under control. Another blaze broke out in the Carmel Olefins factory, which contains a plant for manufacturing polymers for the plastics industry.

Both incidents caused fears that toxins dangerous to public health might have been emitted into the air. “Haifa Bay is a national fiasco,” Amitai said at the time. “Public health and safety interests and basic conditions for living are being trampled on by the factory owners, who want to keep behaving as though 800,000 people were not living nearby.”