Life Near Israel's Landfills, Under a Cloud of Dust and Stench

Modern, innovative waste management facilities are supposed to be equipped with measures to prevent hazards, but disillusioned residents aren’t buying it

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A waste site near residential buildings in the village of Jatt, July.
A waste site near residential buildings in the village of Jatt, July.Credit: Rami Shllush
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

For years, the residents of Ein Yam neighborhood in west Hadera suffered a blight of bad odors coming from a nearby landfill. In recent weeks, another familiar nuisance grew worse: a cloud of dust carrying a stench began to envelop the area.

“Almost every day we wake up to a cloud of dust,” describes local resident Eyal Pebzner. “All this is close to residential homes and educational facilities. The smells cause discomfort, and some people complain of a burning sensation and shortness of breath. The health implications, such as increasing asthma among children, are unclear.”

He says the source of the smell is the nearby “Avivit” landfill, but the dust blight began after the operators of the other site, “Green Quality,” received a permit to grind construction waste for re-use. The residents appealed to the Municipal Environmental Association and complained to the city, but so far to no avail.

The two sites are intended to hold construction and dry waste (waste that is free of food remains, like junk metal and processed lumber). Occupying a total of 60 dunams (15 acres), their capacity is listed at 500,000 cubic meters. These sites are supposed to solve environmental problems – but like others around the country, often become hazards themselves.

Beyond the immediate harm they cause, these sites cause a long-term concern for the Environmental Protection Ministry: The residents’ bad experience increases their opposition to the construction of more modern installations that are less prone to disaster.

The landfills’ problematic operation is exhaustively documented, including in the 2020 Municipal Environmental Association report, which detailed many failures in the treatment of waste at the Ein Yam Avivim site. Among other things, these failures caused waste transferred there to combust underground, creating air and smell hazards in the area.

Underground fires develop at landfills due to the decomposition process of organic waste like food remains and foliage. The bacterial breakdown causes a rise in temperature, and upon contact with oxygen or methane built up in the waste, combustion may result. These fires can last for weeks or longer.

The owner and operator of both sites, Zvi Cohen Ecology Group, says it has begun work in recent works to seal the waste mound formed at Avivit, which is causing smell and smoke hazards, and placed monitoring devices on-site. The company, recently under new management, says further work may be required, including tunneling into the mound, which might cause temporary hazards.

Burned garbage near the city of Rahat, August.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A tour of the mound of waste shows cracks emitting harsh smells, but only within a few meters. The grinding facility was moved further from the residential homes and sprinklers douse the main dirt road, to prevent dust plumes.

The company claims it is the movement of heavy equipment on dirt roads for the nearby expansion of Route 2 that is causing the dustbowl. A naked eye examination reveals this to be partly true. “We act to deal with every hazard bothering the residents,” a source at Zvi Cohen Group said. “We intend to operate here long-term, preferably from closed facilities. That requires the authorities’ approval. Remember that if we weren’t here, construction waste would be dumped in open areas.”

A mid-concert stench

The residents of Ein Yam are far from the only ones dealing with the vagaries of life by a landfill. Many complaints in recent years have been lodged by residents of Tel Aviv’s southeast neighborhoods, close to the Dan Municipal Sanitation Association waste treatment installations at the former landfill-mountain Hiriya. These increased three years ago after the launch of an advanced closed facility from which waste is transferred as fuel to the Nesher cement plant.

Hiriya is also home to a way station where all the waste of Gush Dan arrives, en route to landfills in the Negev. The attendant smells interfere, among other things, with cultural events at Ariel Sharon Park atop the site. This was noticed undeniably only weeks ago, at a large concert held at the park.

Other localities suffering from similar phenomena are Kiryat Motzkin, near the “Compost 2000” plant (which the court declined to shut down despite acknowledging the harm it causes, as authorities had begun addressing the problem); the Arab town of Jatt, where illegal waste dumping by a way station caused underground garbage fires that lasted long after the site was shut down. At all hazard-causing waste sites, responsibility lies first and foremost with the operators who exceeded their licenses. Yet plenty of responsibility also lies with local authorities and the Environmental Protection Ministry. In Jatt the previous mayor did nothing to monitor the site or prevent illicit dumping. In Hadera the local and national authorities are closely involved, yet the blight continues, with the authorities claiming in many cases to be unable to precisely locate the source of bad odors. Only court orders seem to effect any modicum of change.

These failures cause the public's resistance to proposed modernized and innovative waste management facilities. These are supposed to be equipped with measures to prevent hazards – but wherever suggested, the disillusioned residents aren’t buying it. The most prominent example is the planned facility by Zero Waste, at the central Gush Dan sewage treatment facility near Rishon Letzion, scheduled to treat 400,000 tons per year, sorting waste for recycling, with the organic waste sent to a plant that would produce energy from the waste and use some of it for compost. Dan Municipal Sanitation Association said in response: “These days we are covering the way station, including systems to treat and filter the air from the closed facility. Until completion of this work, all waste arriving is sent out the same day, with a video record sent to the Environmental Protection Ministry. The closed sorting facility has European-standard air treatment and filtering. At odor samples a year ago all facilities were sampled with the samples fed to a scent distribution model showing conclusively that the facilities do not cause hazards to nearby residential areas.”

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