MK Blasts Stalling on Pollution, Security Dangers in Haifa

MK Elharrar, chairwoman of the State Control Committee, warns that the ammonia tank in the northern Israeli city is a 'ticking time bomb.'

Hagay Frid

The chairwoman of the State Control Committee, MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid), called on Sunday for the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Health Ministry to clarify why they have not declared Haifa a polluted area.

Elharrar was speaking at a conference at Haifa University on pollution in the Haifa Bay region, and asked for answers from the ministries within two weeks.

MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Oren Hazan (Likud) also participated in the conference, as did representatives of the State Comptroller’s Office, Health Ministry and Environmental Protection Ministry; as well as representatives of environmental organizations and local residents. Noticeably absent were local mayors, though a few did send representatives.

Elharrar and Zandberg pressured Health Ministry officials to clarify why they did not declare Haifa a polluted region, but no clear answer was given. Pollution in the area has been steadily falling since 2009, and by 2018 emissions of pollutants will be cut in half, said the deputy district head from the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Environmental activist Moti Blitzblau mentioned that in the past the director general of the Health Ministry, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, recommended declaring Haifa a polluted area, but he said it never happened for political reasons.

A large part of the discussion was devoted to the issue of the large ammonia tank located in the Haifa Bay area, particularly because of the threat last week by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to attack it and set off an explosion equivalent to a nuclear bomb.

The upper part of the ammonia tank has no protection, said environmental activist Hanah Kuperman. The Environmental Protection Ministry representative explained that plans for protecting the tank were set by the IDF Home Front Command, and the sides of the tank cannot support such reinforcement.

Environmental Protection Ministry representatives also discussed the possibility of reducing the amount of ammonia in the storage tank, but such a step would not reduce the risk because the ammonia vapors would fill the empty part of the tank – and are even more dangerous than the liquid ammonia.

A representative of the Haifa municipality, Nimrod Shein, explained the city’s demand to remove all the ammonia immediately, saying the city objects to the expansion of the Oil Refineries.

Elharrar warned that this is a “ticking bomb.” “Everyone is aware, and are doing almost nothing. This is a daily danger to the residents of the north, and the country must not abandon the residents of Haifa Bay, from a security and health standpoint. We will not let more and more reports pass by without doing anything,” she said.

Plans are being made to expand the petrochemical industry in the bay area, and these plans must be stopped immediately, Zandberg said.