After Expert's Grave Warning, Israeli Court Orders Haifa Ammonia Tank Emptied by April 1

In upholding a lower court ruling, the judge notes that the presence of the tank 'constituted a real danger to anyone in the city of Haifa at any time.'

The ammonia tank in Haifa, with the city in the background.
Rami Shllush

The Haifa District Court ordered on Wednesday the ammonia tank in the Haifa Bay area to be emptied entirely by April 1, rejecting a petition by Haifa Chemicals against the closure. The court also prohibited refilling of the tank and ships carrying ammonia from docking in Israel.

Judge Tamar Sharon Netanel ruled that until the tank is empty, Haifa Chemicals could continue to supply its customers with ammonia as before, which would mean the tank would in any case be empty in a month.

The judge noted in the 17-page ruling that ammonia and ships carrying the substance “constituted a real danger to anyone in the city of Haifa at any time. The likelihood of a scenario whereby the ammonia is released is not negligible at all.”

The ruling also instructed government ministries and other relevant agencies to do everything possible to assist entities that use ammonia.

Two weeks ago, the Haifa Administrative Court ordered Haifa Chemicals to empty the ammonia tanks in 10 days. However, it delayed implementation after Haifa Chemicals petitioned against the ruling. At the same time, the Environmental Protection Ministry announced that it would not be renewing the toxin permit required for the ammonia, which expired on March 1.

The decision two weeks ago to empty and close the tank was made after the Haifa municipality went to court to ask that the tank be closed down, after publication of a report in which experts detailed the dangers of the ammonia tank in the bay area.

The report’s lead author, Prof. Ehud Keinan, warned last month at a press conference that the tank could fall apart at any moment. “If the tank comes apart, we are talking about 16,000 people dead. If we’re talking about a hit to the ammonia ship – many more,” he said.

The director of the NGO Citizens for the Environment, attorney Jameela Hardal Wakim, who spearheaded efforts to shut down the ammonia tank, said the April 1 closure was reasonable. “The question is who is now going to ensure implementation, especially because the factory continues to fight and publish false claims together with the Industrialists Association.”

Haifa Chemicals said it was studying the court’s ruling.

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s decision not to renew the toxin permit could be changed by decisions of the ministerial committee that deals with regulatory issues, headed by the prime minister, although no ministry has asked the committee to discuss the matter.

A number of alternatives to the Haifa Bay ammonia tank have been suggested, including building a smaller tank in Ashkelon. However, on Wednesday the region’s municipal association for the environment announced it opposed such a move.

Zafrir Rinat contributed to this report.