Groundwater Polluted by Military Factories Spreads to Israel's Coastal Region

Some 120 sites were affected, imposing restrictions on drilling drinking water in Herzliya, Rehovot and Nes Ziona ■ Authorities have known about the pollution for years, but no steps have been taken to purify the water

A site that formerly housed an IMI factory, Nof Yam Herzliya, Israel, 2010.
Dror Ezra

Groundwater is severely polluted at some 120 sites in Israel's coastal region, due to previous military industry activity and other industrial structures, according to Water Authority data presented at a Tel Aviv conference last week.

According to the data, the pollution has restricted the ability to drill for drinking water in Herzliya, Rehovot and Nes Ziona.

The authorities have known about this pollution for years, but no steps have as yet been taken to purify the water. It doesn’t pose an immediate health hazard because as soon as pollutants above the legal limits are detected, the drilling site where they are found is shut down, but it is undermining the ability to utilize the underground aquifer in the coastal region.

Last week the Energy and Environment Institute in Tel Aviv had its first seminar of Israeli and foreign experts on rehabilitating polluted ground. At the conference, Water Authority official Dr. Sharon Saguy-Ben Moshe explained that the polluted sites cover some 95 square kilometers. The largest polluted areas, which are continuing to spread rapidly, are found near sites that formerly housed military industries.

One of the areas is the Israel Military Industries compound in Ramat Hasharon. There are still factories at the site, but the pollution was caused in the past, when the wastewater was poured into septic tanks and from there seeped into the groundwater. The city has a serious problem with polluted groundwater because of a material called perchlorate, which was used as missile fuel. The material is still spreading and has caused the closure of 14 drilling sites, with the polluted groundwater reaching Tel Aviv and Herzliya.

Over the years there was a successful pilot project to clear the perchlorate from the groundwater at Ramat Hasharon, but because of bureaucratic disputes about funding, among other things, it is only recently that the Water Authority has been able to organize itself to request bids for a large-scale cleanup from companies that engage in this work. The request will be issued during the next few weeks.

Another pollution focal point that’s spreading is east of Rehovot, at a site that formerly housed an IMI factory. In this case the pollutant is not just perchlorate but another chemical called trichloroethylene. Several water drilling sites in Rehovot and Nes Ziona have been shut down due to perchlorate pollution.

Serious ground and groundwater pollution also exists at the site of a former IMI plant on the border between Tel Aviv and Givatayim. At this site there has also been a problem of poisonous gases spreading from the groundwater into the ground and from there into parking lots and other subterranean structures in the area.

Ground and groundwater pollution is also widely present at sites the Israel Defense Forces is evacuating in the central region, like Tel Hashomer, Tzrifin and Sirkin, on which tens of thousands of apartments are supposed to be built.

At last week’s seminar, Avi Haim, head of the industrial wastewater, polluted ground and fuels division of the Environmental Protection Ministry, said that in the areas the army is evacuating, between 5 percent and 15 percent of the area is polluted with the residues of fuel, explosives and solvents used for cleaning and maintenance. Over the next five years around a billion shekels will be spent on cleaning up the ground in these areas.