Eco-logic |

Sniffing Out the Sources of Odor Hazards

Attorney General urges class action against odor-emitting factory proceed, highlighting the obligations of polluters and the recognition of the damage they case.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

A few weeks ago I wrote about the noise issue, which bothers many but has not received public and media attention. There is another widespread nuisance that does not receive public attention − namely, foul odors.

This week there is good reason to address it, due to the step taken by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Weinstein has filed an objection to a compromise reached between a factory accused of causing foul odors and a person who asked to bring a class-action suit against it. Weinstein’s arguments are important with regard to the obligations of polluters and the recognition of the damage they cause the public.

Last year, Mordechai Elbaz filed a request with the Be’er Sheva District Court to bring a class action suit against the fodder factory Asmei Oz 2000 in Ofakim. Elbaz charged that Asmei Oz had been causing frequent and insufferable odor hazards for dozens of years. He asked to include in the class action suit the city’s residents and those who work near the factory. He defined the injury caused to this group as “non-financial” − characterized instead by psychological distress and disgust due to exposure to unpleasant odors. The court was asked to order the factory to take steps to cease the odor hazard. It should be noted that the Environmental Protection Ministry has taken a series of enforcement actions against the factory to address the odor problems.

Last month, a request was filed with the court to approve a compromise between the two sides. The arrangement stipulates that although not required to do so according to its business licensing conditions, the factory would install a system for odor neutralization using a method called “cold plasma” at a cost of NIS 5 million to NIS 7.5 million. In addition, the factory will pay the residents of Ofakim NIS 400,000 through a donation to a community center.

The attorney general, through his representative in the southern district, decided to file an objection to the compromise agreement. In it, he claims that presenting the installation of the odor neutralization system as a step taken by the factory beyond what is required by law is an “incorrect and misleading representation of the facts, since in any case the company is required by law to install such a system,” and that furthermore the system will not necessarily cease the odor hazards since it will not treat all the possible sources of odors in the factory.

Weinstein’s comment regarding the amount the factory has promised to donate to the Ofakim community center is also illuminating. He notes that the added value of the class action suit is not in the willingness to install an odor neutralization system, since the factory should have installed such a system in any case. The added value is the direct and real compensation for each and every person affected, and the amount proposed by the compromise agreement does not represent reasonable compensation.

According to the attorney general, whose position is based on an opinion written by the Environmental Protection Ministry, Asmei Oz has saved NIS 2.5 million by not preventing the foul odors. As such, and in light of the volume of the facility’s economic activity, the amount specified in the agreement is very much in the factory’s interest: “In this way the compromise provides an economic incentive to continue polluting and avoid the costs needed to prevent the pollution, based on the assumption that in the future, the compensation to be paid will be much lower than the cost of preventing pollution … The compromise does not properly serve the interests of the group members [represented in the class action suit], and is not sufficient with respect to the significant damage caused to them. As such, the agreement should not be upheld in its present format, without providing the parties injured by the odor hazard real compensation that is much higher than what has been proposed.”

The attorney general’s conclusions will be answered in the coming weeks by the factory’s legal representative, Attorney Arie Neiger. In the meantime, Neiger agreed to respond to Weinstein’s claims regarding the odor neutralization system. According to Neiger, the attorney general’s assertion, according to which the technology in question is not more advanced than that required by law, does not correspond to the relevant material in his possession.

The concern with odor hazards has been growing in recent years, due to the expansion of residential districts into industrial or agricultural zones. In recent years a series of class action suits have been brought regarding this hazard. It is often difficult to clearly indicate the source of odor hazards, particularly in cases where there are a number of facilities or activities with the potential of creating an odor hazard in the same area, with all the factories consistently claiming they are not the source of the odors.

A good example of odor hazards and how they are dealt with was provided by the Neot Hovav industrial area (formerly Ramat Hovav). For many years the site was a source for severe odor hazards for the residents of Be’er Sheva and its surroundings, due to industrial waste pools built there. Public pressure directed at the Ramat Hovav Regional Council and the factories was one of the factors leading to a change in the way waste was treated. The result was a significant reduction of odor hazards.

Ironically, quite a few battles against odor hazards are conducted against facilities supposed to solve environmental problems, which themselves become hazards. In the Kiryat Gat and Givat Ada areas, for example, residents fought in recent years against facilities for the treatment of sludge and waste of different kinds, which they claimed created an odor hazard. The source of such hazards is not always pollution at levels that endanger health, but damage to the quality of life is certain and very significant.

Illegal garbage dispoal sites can be lucrative for environmental criminals.Credit: Reuters

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