Water Authority: Teva Factory Behind Severe Pollution of Tel Aviv-area River

Exclusive: High levels of residue from diabetes, epilepsy and depression medicines found in Tel Aviv-area waterway.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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La rivière HaYarkon
La rivière HaYarkonCredit: Dov Greenblat
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Teva Pharmaceutical Industries manufacturing plant in Kfar Sava has seriously contaminated the Yarkon River, according to sources at the Water Authority. Effluent containing very high concentrations of chemical by-products of the manufacturing process were discharged into a municipal water treatment facility and released into the river, where high levels of the chemicals were detected.

Tests of water samples taken from points all along the Yarkon River over the past two years and processed in the Water Authority’s national monitoring laboratory detected high concentrations of drug residues, far exceeding levels found in water sources abroad or at Israeli treatment plants. High concentrations of drug residues were also measured at the Kfar Sava-Ra’anana water treatment plant. Runoff from the Teva plant is treated at this facility and discharged into the Yarkon, where it is treated further at the “green basins” facility.

Additional tests of effluent at the point of discharge from the Teva factory confirmed that the drug residue originated in the plant.

This week the head of the Water Authority’s water quality department, Sara Elhanani, informed Teva of the agency’s findings. Some of the drugs whose residue was found in the river and the treatment facilities are resistant to treatment procedures, so that high concentrations remain even after several stages of purification. Elhanani said the agency would search for other possible sources of the contamination but added that “without doubt, Teva is responsible for seriously polluting the Yarkon River with drugs it manufactures.”

Elhanani said the contaminants found in the water included high concentrations of metformin, a diabetes treatment, and carbamazepine, which is used to treat epileptic seizures and nerve pain. The levels measured were 200 time higher than those at most water treatment plants in Israel.

Some of the drugs found in the water are known to disrupt hormonal action and can upset river ecosystems. According to a recent study published in the United States exposure to metformin residue can change the sexual characteristics of fish. According to the recent annual report of the Yarkon River Authority, the main risk is the accumulation of these residues on the streambed and in ecosystems along river banks. The report noted that high levels of an antidepressant drug were also detected.

Elhanani demanded that Teva locate the source of the drug residues and take immediate action to prevent their discharge into the sewage system. The company was instructed to allow surprise visits by Water Authority inspectors, in order to take test samples from a number of locations on the campus.

“Teva strives to protect the environment and is diligent in following the letter of the law and in maintaining international standards in the treatment of by-product residues,” the company said in a statement. “Two days ago the company unexpectedly received a letter from the Water Authority claiming the alleged detection of excessive amounts in effluents. Our Kfar Sava site discharges these effluents into the municipal treatment plant in Kfar Sava, which is under the supervision of the municipal water and sewage companies, and not into the Yarkon River. We take this issue very seriously and will study the findings noted in the letter. We will hold further discussions with the Water Authority regarding this topic.”

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