The groundwater near three-quarters of Israeli gas stations and storage tanks for which data are available is contaminated.
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That, according to a report released this week by the Water Authority monitoring 236 fuel facilities. Most are gas stations, a smaller number are storage depots.
In some of the sites, the contamination consists of a layer of gasoline floating on top of the water. In other cases, traces of gasoline and of the octane-raising fuel additive MTBE have dissolved into the water.
Since these materials are toxic and carcinogenic, the Water Authority has placed a high priority on preventing additional sites from becoming contaminated and therefore prohibited for use as a source of drinking water.
In 2016 the Water Authority tested the groundwater near 11 fuel facilities and found contamination in nine of them. Tests conducted since then have found groundwater contaminated with fuel at 10 wells whose water is used for various purposes. The drill sites were in some cases 400 meters from a gas station.
Most of the tested sites are above the coastal aquifer, one of Israel’s most important.
Even a small amount of fuel can render a large amount of water unfit for drinking.
The Water Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry have begun to require gas stations and fuel depots to install additional equipment to pinpoint leaks. The authority has also begun to demand that fuel companies purify contaminated groundwater. This has mainly involved pumping out the fuel-tainted water, but other methods must be used when hazardous materials have dissolved into the aquifer.
Last year a number of plans were submitted to the Water Authority to resolve the problem, including the introduction of bacteria that can break down the fuel.
A total of 3.2 million liters of fuel have been pumped out at 83 sites so far. Large quantities of fuel have been pumped out at the oil refineries at Ashdod and the Petroleum and Energy Infrastructures (Tashan) fuel depot in the Haifa Bay area. Rehabilitation has been completed at a number of sites and the level of contamination is now below that required by the Environmental Protection Ministry.
One particularly contaminated zone is the Israel Air Force Base at Hatzor, southeast of Ashdod. Contamination from jet fuel was discovered there 35 years ago, but nothing was done about it until four years ago when pumping of the contaminated water began. Last year, nearly 6,000 liters of jet fuel were pumped out of the aquifer in the area.