Hundreds Protest Air Pollution, High Cancer Rates in Haifa

Kiryat Haim demonstration targets adjacent government-owned fuel storage facilities.

A demonstrator holding up a sign reading "we're choking!" during a protest against air pollution in Haifa, May 3, 2015.
Rami Shllush

Hundreds of people demonstrated Sunday afternoon in Kiryat Haim near Haifa, protesting the pollution caused by the plants of the Haifa Bay area, and the lack of treatment of the pollution and disease it causes by the authorities. The demonstration started with a march along Degania Street, which is considered to have a high level of cancer incidence. The street is adjacent to a plant belonging to the government-owned company Petroleum and Energy Infrastructures, which serves the entire Israeli fuel sector.

“[From] what we see here, the penny has finally dropped for people, and that is why? The zigzagging of the authorities,” said Moti Blitz Blau, a resident of Kiryat Haim and a member of the local residents’ committee. “Finally, after a battle for years in which they claimed – and based their claims on research from around the world – that the materials from the petrochemical plants are definitely carcinogenic, and only here in Israel do they ignore it,”

Blau said the Health Ministry’s announcement that cancer rates in the neighborhood are higher is the definitive truth. The chance of getting cancer before age 65 is 4.73 times higher than the national average in the neighborhood next to the fuel tank farm, he said.

The residents demand that all possible steps are taken to reduce the pollution, move the storage tanks and halt plans for expanding the plants, he said, adding: “We are not monkeys, they won’t do tests on us.”

“If [Haifa mayor] Yona Yahav makes a 180-degree turnaround he can make a real change, on behalf of the residents,” said Or-ly Barlev, who led the event. She also told the government to “wake up – more people are dying here than in wars. There are also other illnesses in addition to cancer present in the neighborhood because of the pollution, and these are not being examined,” she said. Another speaker called on Yahav to resign.

A., a Haifa resident who worked in a PEI facility, said that leaks have polluted the land there. There is also a fire hazard from fuel leaking into the ground, but PEI management has tried to keep the problems from being monitored, said A., adding that the public is unaware of all the dangers.

“There are no more fish, no life, no crabs, everything because of another port,” said environmental activist Alice Goldman. She brought two samples of sand from the beach to the demonstration, one taken a few years ago, which was white, and one taken now, which was dark – taken from the sea bottom across from the fuel storage tanks.

It is not only polluting materials, it is also hazardous materials, said Roni Kolev, a local resident. She said the area was also a target for missiles because of the factories. “There will be a catastrophe here, a war too and also an earthquake combined with these circumstances has not been taken into account,” she said.