Air pollution from vehicles kills about 1,100 people in Israel every year and accounts for roughly half of all deaths from air pollution, according to data presented to the Knesset on Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Ministry.
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The main culprits are vehicles with diesel engines, which produce 90 percent of all vehicular air pollution despite accounting for only a fifth of the total kilometers traveled by Israeli vehicles. This is largely because many diesel vehicles are old.
The primary source of pollution is diesel vehicles meeting the older Euro 1 to Euro 3 emission standards, as these emit more small particles that penetrate the respiratory system. There are 68,000 buses, trucks, commercial vehicles and minibuses of these makes.
In 2015, 70 percent of the ministry’s measuring stations recorded pollution that exceeds the legal maximum. Most of the stations in question were located along roads in the greater Tel Aviv area, Jerusalem and Haifa.
The data were presented at a special session of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee dealing with vehicle air pollution. Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin also presented a new plan that aspires to cut such pollution by 30 percent by 2020.
The plan, which will soon be submitted to the Knesset for approval, will require 21,000 older vehicles to install particle filters that would significantly reduce emissions. The rule would apply to passenger vehicles with nine or more seats and work vehicles whose capacity exceeds 12 tons. The ministry would subsidize the filters’ cost.
“For companies with fewer than three vehicles, or whose turnover is up to 1 million shekels [$280,000], we’ll finance the entire cost of buying the filter,” Elkin said. “We understand that this is a significant financial outlay.” A filter can cost up to 20,000 shekels.
The ministry also plans to revive an old program meant to encourage owners of older vehicles to take them out of service. Under this plan, the old vehicles are dismantled and some of the parts recycled, while the ministry subsidizes the cost of replacing the vehicle. This program could apply to tens of thousands of vehicles.
Another idea, to which the Jerusalem and Haifa municipalities are party, is to declare parts of those cities off limits to polluting vehicles. In Haifa, this plan is in the early stages of implementation.
The ultimate goal is to replace polluting vehicles with cleaner ones that run on electricity or natural gas. But switching to cleaner fuels has proved difficult, and to date Israel has only six electric buses.