Firefighters quickly arrived and began fighting the fire 10 days ago at the Gadiv plant of the Haifa Oil Refineries – but hazardous materials responders, under the Defense Ministry’s National Fire and Rescue Authority, took three hours just to get to the scene, the Haifa District Municipal Association for Environmental Protection has found.
According to Dr. Ofer Dressler, the director general of the Haifa association: “The hazardous materials responders should be there at the beginning of an incident. Immediacy is of the greatest importance.”
Hazardous materials responders are supposed to monitor the situation and make risk assessments, which are of great importance to firefighters at the start of an incident, and so they can issue warnings to residents of the area if necessary.
A year and a half ago the responsibility for rapid response to hazardous materials incidents, except those involving explosive or radioactive materials, was transferred from the Environmental Protection Ministry to the National Fire and Rescue Authority at the Defense Ministry. The Environmental Protection Ministry also set up a team to examine whether all the steps were taken at the plant that should have prevented the fire.
The technical examination by the Oil Refineries to establish the reason for the fire will be completed only a week from now because the concentration of toxic gasses at the facility is still too high. “It is necessary,” says Dressler, “to dismantle all kinds of things to understand what happened, and we are waiting for the results.”
In the wake of the fire, environmental organizations in the north have issued a call for the establishment of a situation room, which, according to Citizens for the Environment and the Public Health Coalition, would be responsible for “routine recording, supervision and action as well as emergencies.” The NGOs have been demanding this since the Second Lebanon War.
However, the Environmental Protection Ministry says its information center is “already serving as a situation room, to which the Haifa Bay industrial plants are required to report during a hazardous materials incident.”
On Wednesday, the Knesset Interior and Environmental Protection committee will hold a discussion of “the health and environmental risk as a result of the expansion of the Haifa Oil Refineries.”
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