Contamination Cleanup at Major Israeli Defense Site Hampered by Red Tape

Untreated industrial waste that was channeled into ground compromised water wells in Israel's north; three-year-old cleanup appears to be delayed due to funding difficulties.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Cleanup and containment of contamination discovered three years ago at a Rafael Advanced Defense Systems facility in the Haifa Bay area may be hampered by funding difficulties.

The Environmental Protection Ministry, which sets conditions for the operation of the facility in terms of its treatment of toxic materials, first discovered the contamination on a tour of the site - known as the David Institute. Ministry officials observed that untreated industrial waste was being channeled directly into the ground, giving rise to concerns over extensive soil and groundwater contamination in the area.

The facility complied with a ministry demand that it stop channeling the untreated waste, but subsequent testing showed that some wells had already been contaminated.

The ministry demanded that Rafael carry out soil surveys and provide information on the history of activity at the site, so that possible environmental contaminants could be identified. However, testing was delayed because ministry personnel encountered ongoing difficulties obtaining the necessary security clearance to enter the facility. Testing has only recently begun.

The Water Authority confirmed that the David Institute had caused contamination in the past. “We are working on an ongoing basis with the facility,” the Authority said in a statement, adding that it is “now in the process of identifying the contamination. Ways will then be determined to deal with it, with the Water Authority presenting the requirements and determining the means of treatment. It is important that the facility deal with the contamination caused in the past, and we are working with all factors.”

“The real challenge in treating the contamination at Rafael, and in other places, will be funding,” the ministry’s deputy director general, Shuli Nezer, said. In order to determine the specifics of how the state will fund the cleanup of contaminated soil, Nezer says a bill now before the Knesset must complete the legislation process. “Without this law, we have no way to fund treatment of contamination,” she said.

A statement issued by Rafael called environmental protection “an essential and inseparable part of the management strategy of Rafael, which invests many resources in advancing it, while meeting advanced standards and fully cooperating with the supervising authorities and agencies. Over the years, in the framework of testing, contamination was found at certain points and, upon discovery, Rafael immediately did everything that was required.”

The statement said Rafael had involved all relevant agencies in its action, and that it would “continue to meet the requirements of the authorized bodies.” Rafael reiterated that, according to the information it had, the contamination was at certain specific points, “and at no stage was there a danger to employees or the general public.”

In recent years, numerous points of contamination involving security-related industries have been discovered. According to a report prepared for the Environmental Protection Ministry, typical contaminants include oils, fuels, solvents, toxic metals, explosives and cyanides.

A view of Haifa Bay, which is home to much of Israel’s heavy industry.Credit: Moran Mayan
Soil and groundwater contamination at defense industry sites.

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