Israeli Air Pollution Drops 70-99% on Car-free Yom Kippur

Pollutant levels in major cities gradually decreasing as more stringent bylaws are enacted.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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A highway in Tel Aviv, empty of cars on Yom Kippur.
A highway in Tel Aviv, empty of cars on Yom Kippur. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Air pollution levels this past Yom Kippur, when Israelis customarily stay off the roads, proved once again the decisive role that motor vehicles play in the air pollution problem in Israel’s urban areas. According to data from the Environmental Protection Ministry’s air monitoring stations published Sunday, air pollution in large cities decreased over the holiday by between 70 percent and 99 percent.

Concentrations of nitrogen oxide, the pollutant that was measured, decreased in Greater Tel Aviv over the holiday by 99 percent and by a similar amount in Jerusalem. It was reduced by 77 percent in Haifa.

When nitrogen oxides enter the respiratory system they cause various diseases, including pulmonary inflammation and infections. One of its components, nitrogen monoxide, is highly damaging to health and harms mainly children.

Air quality in several cities has improved in recent years, and this time the decrease over Yom Kippur came from a lower pollution level to begin with. According to statistics released by the Tel Aviv municipality’s Environmental Protection Authority, the concentration of nitrogen oxides in the city’s air does not exceed half the level permitted by environmental-protection bylaws. The reasons for this improvement include the transition to less polluting vehicles and removal of the wholesale market from the city, along with the many exhaust-spewing trucks that used to go there.

Traffic jam on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway.Credit: David Bachar

The Environmental Protection Ministry is trying to put in place additional measures to reduce air pollution. One of them is restricting the entry of polluting vehicles to downtown Tel Aviv – a plan that has been delayed by a dispute between the environment and transportation ministries over its implementation.

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