West Bank Charcoal Pollution Ires Wadi Ara Communities

Residents complain of strong, noxious smells and particle pollution from the dozens of Palestinian charcoal factories.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Residents of communities south of Wadi Ara are once again experiencing severe air pollution from dozens of Palestinian charcoal factories in the northern part of the West Bank. The pollution includes both noxious odors and particles in the air.

Local authority heads in the area are demanding that the state act to shut down the charcoal businesses, after repeated complaints by residents over the past two years. The Sharon-Carmel Association of Towns for Environmental Protection has received numerous complaints on the issue recently, mostly from the communities of Kibbutz Metzer and Mitzpe Ilan.

A team of experts from the association evaluated the scope of the problem and the seriousness of the environmental nuisance at the beginning of this month. It tested several locations in the area of Kibbutz Metzer and Mitzpe Ilan.

In its report, the teram stated that, "It is possible to say without any doubt that the strong and unbearable smell from the charcoal factories in the area is both a nuisance and a danger ." The team noted there were also complaints from the town of Pardes Hanna, but there were no annoying odors found there. Nonetheless, after the tests were carried out, additional complaints were received from area residents.

In one of the complaints, a local resident wrote: "We have already suffered for three nights. The closed windows without a crack don't help, and neither does the towel under the door. The house is filled with the unbearable smell of smoke and chemicals." The team's report noted that the suffocating odor results from the emission of various poisons by the charcoal fires.

Appeals to ministers

A few weeks ago the head of the Mensahe Regional Council, Ilan Sadeh, along with the head of the environmental association, Nir Sahar, appealed to a number of government ministers, including Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, Health Minister Yael German and Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, demanding that they act to prevent the pollution from the charcoal fires. They noted that the raw materials used by the charcoal manufacturing plants come from Israeli farmers.

Other materials, such as plastic sheets, are also used during the burning process.and increase the level of air pollution. Local residents keep their children indoors during such pollution events out of fear for their health.

The residents are demanding that the state act to prevent the sale of pruned branches to the charcoal factories. This can be done, they say, by requiring the branches be sold to a single firm, which would ensure that they are not sold to the charcoal makers. The regional council and the environmental association are also considering petitioning the High Court of Justice if the dangerous pollution is not stopped.

The IDF's Civil Administration in the territories has attempted to both close down the charcoal factories and persuade them to try a facility that can burn the wood without polluting. But, despite these efforts, the charcoal-making businesses have continued their operations and are continuing to pollute.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said that a unit of inspectors would soon start working at the checkpoints to the West Bank. Their job would be to prevent the smuggling of waste from Israel to the West Bank and prevent the transfer of wood from pruned trees, which is used to make the charcoal.

Charcoal kiln in Area C, northern West Bank, 2011.Credit: Alon Ron
Mitzpeh Ilan, near Wadi AraCredit: Nitzan Shorer

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