A City Plagued by Asbestos

Nahariya can be defined as a city plagued by asbestos due to the Eitanat factory that operated in the city for many years.

Sometimes you need to exaggerate when describing environmental dangers in order to rouse the authorities into dealing with the problem. But there is no need to exaggerate when it comes to the asbestos hazards in Nahariya, where mayoral elections will take place next week. The handling of asbestos dangers will be one of the victor's tasks.

Nahariya can be defined as a city plagued by asbestos due to the Eitanat factory that operated in the city for many years. The factory produced asbestos, and remnants of this material were sold to residents who used it for various purposes, including paving roads and building roofs. In the mayoral elections scheduled for next week, the asbestos hazards will constitute a central issue.

In recent years, a nonprofit environmental group has operated in Nahariya. In collaboration with other environmental organizations and experts from the Environment Ministry, it began exposing the broad extent of the diffusion of asbestos in the city's streets.

Recently, medical data was also published that indicates the heavy price paid by residents of the region, who have been exposed to asbestos at work or to the asbestos fibers dispersed in the area. The assessment is that the number of patients with mesothelioma cancer in the western Galilee region is 40 times the number of patients in a population of similar size in other countries. This type of cancer is clearly linked to human exposure to asbestos fibers created when the asbestos is in brittle condition.

One of the candidates for mayor, incumbent Ron Frumer, declared during his campaign that he had promised to clear the asbestos from Nahariya and had kept his promise. His campaign flyers claim that residents of Nahariya can breathe freely thanks to him.

But, almost every week the environmental NPO exposes an additional concentration of brittle asbestos that sends off deadly fibers in every direction. The organization recently discovered piles of asbestos covered with nylon in a densely populated neighborhood where there are kindergartens and day-care facilities. According to the NPO, sales promotions are continuing in the city for construction near sites where asbestos has yet to be evacuated.

A few months ago, Prof. Arthur Frank, a world-renowned expert on the dangers of asbestos, visited Nahariya. Frank, who is from the United States, toured the various sites in the city where asbestos had been spread over the years. At the end of the tour, he said, "This is one of the worst places I've ever seen in terms of asbestos pollution and I've seen many places."

The Environment Ministry recently announced its intention to take action to clean up the asbestos in Nahariya and to allocate NIS 15 million for this purpose. But larger sums are needed to not only take care of removing the asbestos, but also to assist in the medical follow-up of people who became ill as a result of exposure to the lethal material.

The situation in Nahariya calls for an urgent investment of large resources to clean up the city, and it is not an exaggeration to describe this as a matter of saving lives. The government must mobilize the necessary resources to do this quickly and to check whether it is possible to increase the scope of financial assistance that the owners of the defunct factory are required to provide.

There is something worrisome in the fact that government officials have been aware of the asbestos dangers in Nahariya for a number of years, but only now is the Environment Ministry announcing that it will begin to invest money in clearing the hazards from the city, and that it will include the local authority and factory owners in this effort.

But even a belated and partial action signifies the start of a treatment process. However, the Environment Ministry's efforts are encountering obstacles that suggest the great danger posed by the asbestos is still not clear to all of the government entities.

Last week, the ministry informed the contractors involved in removing the asbestos that it will no longer deal with the entire asbestos issue. The reason is that ministry inspectors are not receiving insurance suitable for the risk involved in their work. Therefore, it is impossible to supervise the contractors. The ministry said all of its appeals to government entities on this matter did not yield results. It sounds amazing, but this is the Israeli reality in which a government ministry announces a halt in dealing with a central field under its authority because the government did not make sure to provide it with the basic conditions it requires for performing its duty.