Bomb Plant Seepage Creating Israel's Worst-ever Water Pollution

Health risks could include cancer, impaired thyroid function and hormonal problems.

Rocket fuel and remains of explosives that seeped into the aquifer from the Israel Military Industries Ramat Hasharon plant are continuing to spread, according to data presented yesterday for the first time by the Water Authority and obtained by Haaretz.

The materials, which are now present in a 16 square-kilometer area, were detected at levels thousands of times greater than allowable U.S. standards, constituting the worst instance of water pollution in Israel's history. Ten water wells have been closed so far as a result.

The Water Authority says that unless the contamination is cleaned up, it will continue to spread to wells in Herzliya and Tel Aviv, disqualifying hundreds of millions of cubic meters of ground water for household use.

Serious ground water pollution from rocket fuel has also been identified at another IMI facility, near Ramle. Remnants of the fuel have already been detected in a well near the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

The data was presented by the head of water quality at the Water Authority, Sarah Elhanani, during a workshop for experts in Israel and the United States at the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot.

The experts discussed the health risks from the material, perchlorate.

"These facilities work for good causes, but the level of ignorance as to the risks to the environment and water sources is astounding," the head of the Water Authority, Prof. Uri Shani, said.

Health risks from perchlorate include cancer, impaired thyroid function and hormonal problems.

According to Elhanani, large quantities of perchlorate have been channeled for decades to four pools at a plant within the IMI complex in Ramat Hasharon. "There are high levels of three types of explosives in the ground water. Two are suspected carcinogens," Elhanani says.

One toxic material discovered in the ground water is an explosive known as RDX, detected at 1,300 times recommended safe levels for drinking water in the United States.

Elhanani said that in a number of wells, percholate contamination in drinking water had increased 10-fold within four years, confirming its spread.

Government urged to act now

Ramat Hasharon residents and officials in the Environmental Protection Ministry are demanding that the Water Authority act now to seal the old military industry pools to prevent rain water from washing more percholate into the ground. Elhanani yesterday said the Water Authority was preparing to take preventive measures but that the work was complicated and required major funding.

The authority might reopen sealed wells and use them to pump out the percholate-contaminated water, and is also planning to open wells in the military industries complex itself to pump out and purify contaminated water. The work is expected to take from three to 10 years.

"Since environmental legislation and awareness of the issue has begun, Israel Military Industries has been working using advanced technology and protecting the environment, investing means amounting to NIS 150 million," IMI responded. "Israel Military Industries now operates according to the strictest standards of environmental quality and in keeping with the conditions of its business license. The contamination discovered has its source in industrial activities that took place decades ago, and the industry is trying to solve these problems together with the various authorities."