Hundreds in Israel Still Dying Each Year From Diesel Exhaust Fumes

The Environmental Protection Ministry is taking steps to solve the problem, but customs fees aren’t yet high enough to discourage the purchase of vehicles running on the fuel

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A traffic jam in central Israel, November 2019.
A traffic jam in central Israel, November 2019.Credit: Amir Levy

Israel’s program to fight vehicle pollution, particularly diesel fumes, has lowered toxic emissions by a quarter over two years, but hundreds of Israelis are still dying annually because of diesel, the Environmental Protection Ministry said this week.

The ministry aims to lower such emissions by 30 percent by the end of the year, but the government must still raise customs fees to discourage the purchase of polluting vehicles. About 50,000 new vehicles of this kind are registered every year.

In Israel, diesel is considered the largest cause of illness and death linked to air pollution. Vehicles running on the fuel account for about 17 percent of all kilometers traveled around the country, but are responsible for about 80 percent of lung-damaging pollutants.

As part of its plan, the ministry aims to reduce pollution by vehicles in the “heavy and old” category weighing more than 12 tons, or passenger vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tons such as buses and minibuses. Ambulances produced before 2005 also fall into this category.

At the end of last year there were 40,000 such vehicles on the roads, a quarter of which were “heavy and old.” Such vehicles are now tested during annual inspections and tagged as polluting vehicles when appropriate.

Owners of such cars, vans, trucks and buses have the option of government subsidies to install filters, or a refund for junking the vehicles and recycling the parts. Both options are gaining pace, the ministry said.

Another part of the plan is the establishment of “pollution-free” zones in larger cities where heavily polluting vehicles are not yet banned; such zones now exist in Haifa and Jerusalem.

But Israelis are still buying new vehicles that run on diesel; the government has not yet raised taxes high enough to squelch this market segment.

Arie Wenger of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense said electricity-based public transportation had to be encouraged to help stamp out diesel.

“In the meantime, hundreds of thousands more vehicles are on the roads, some of which run on diesel fuel,” he said. “Eventually they will also get old and cause pollution.”

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