Dozens of dry cleaners may be polluting the soil and ground water in Israel due to their use of toxic materials, but the required oversight is lacking, according to a new report prepared for the Water Authority.
The dry cleaner with the greatest risk potential is located at Sheba Medical Center, in Tel Hashomer.
The report, written by the firm Ecolog Engineering, is based on a comprehensive survey of the locations of dry cleaners and the materials they use. The proximity of the premises to water-drilling sites was also checked, and whether they are being contaminated by the materials in use at the cleaners.
Out of the 440 dry cleaners in Israel, 180 were identified as posing risks to soil and ground water. About 28 of them were classified as high risk, due to their location near water drilling sites or the coastal aquifer. A good many of them are in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, including Bnai Brak, Givatayim and Ramat Gan.
The high-risk dry cleaner at Sheba Medical Center is the only such facility in the country on the grounds of a hospital.
Dry cleaners use solvents, some of which are highly toxic. Exposure to the main solvent, perchloroethylene, can damage the central nervous system, liver and kidneys and impair memory. This and other materials can leach into the environment through the sewage system, when there are leaks in pipes, or when emitted as vapors into the air.
The report does not name any specific dry cleaner as a source of contamination. In some, equipment may have been replaced over the years and contamination halted, though it found its way into the ground and polluted the aquifer in the past. Ground testing at some locations where dry cleaners previously operated revealed very severe contamination. For example, the dry cleaner that operated for many years on Hamavdil Street in Ramat Gan contaminated an area of some 200 dunams (50 acres) to a depth of 75 meters.
The report gives low marks to enforcement that is meant to prevent environmental hazards. Dry cleaners are supposed to conduct air quality testing once every two years, but they do not. Dangerous waste at the cleaners is not removed nor is sewage quality monitored.
The Water Authority said that it had launched surveys of ground water and gases in the soil to locate possible contamination, following the release of the report. The findings will determine whether treatment is needed to prevent the spread of contamination to ground water.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said: “Monitoring of dry cleaners based on the Business Licensing Law is the responsibility of the local authorities. The ministry monitors dry cleaners that hold large quantities of materials requiring toxin permits.”
Sheba Medical Center said: “Contrary to the Water Authority report, the dry cleaner at Sheba does not contaminate the ground water in any way. The results of Health Ministry testing last January and April show that the water-drilling site near the dry cleaner is not contaminated and the level of material at the site, of which use was made in the dry cleaner, is below allowable levels. It is not clear why the name of the hospital was published by the Water Authority and whether the reference was to the hospital or the Israel Defense Forces dry cleaner operating at the Tel Hashomer base.”
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