Cleaning Up Asbestos in Nahariya Is No Walk on the Beach

Workers are currently in the final phase of a five-year-project to clean up asbestos from one stretch of beach that was contaminated by a plant closed in 1997.

Workers clean up asbestos on the beach in Nahariya.
Rami Shllush

A short gap separates Nahariya residents walking the city’s beautiful beach from a fenced off area surrounded by no-entry signs. Behind the fence, people in white protective suits feverishly remove large piles of asbestos, whose fibers can cause cancer when inhaled.

This is the final phase of Project Green Road to remove the remaining asbestos waste from Western Galilee communities. The project involves careful work in hundreds of sites by meticulously protected workers.

Two decades ago, Nahariya sought to erect a playground on the contaminated part of the beach. Orit Reich, then a young mother, organized residents who successfully demanded the area be cleaned up first.

The asbestos came from the nearby Eitanit asbestos plant, which closed in 1997. Vast quantities were used to build roads, and residents scattered it in their yards and gardens, on the company’s recommendation.

This was done with the local governments’ knowledge, before environmental legislation was standard.

Five years ago a national project was launched to clean up the asbestos waste sites, equally funded by the state and Eitanit. “Since then the factory has transferred all the money and we’ve already used 266 million shekels,” says Avri Lachman, the project director for the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Nearly 300 sites have been cleaned up, and the work is due to be completed early next year.

“It’s hard work, especially in summer, with a suit and mask,” says Yehuda Hen, one of the workers digging up the asbestos mixed with earth at the Nahariya site.

The material is loaded onto containers and covered with several layers of plastic sheets. The workers constantly spray water around the containers and the digging area, to wet the ground and prevent the dust from spreading. The dust contains fine asbestos fibers that can be inhaled.

“We wash the containers before they leave the site,” says Hen, pointing to a washing facility set up at the site’s entrance.

The containers then travel to a special site in the Negev’s Rotem plain.

“We tried to set up such a site further north,” says Tamar Bar-On of the Environmental Ministry. “But the local authorities objected, for fear of being close to this stuff.”

She says the area near the Nahariya beach borders the Eitanit compound, which has not itself been thoroughly cleaned of asbestos.

Environmental Protection Ministry employees often enter other sites and private yards in Nahariya and nearby communities to clean up the waste, in coordination with residents. In the last few months the area near Yonatan Schwartz’s house, in Moshav Liman, was cleaned up.

“I asked the people working on the project to come and clean up,” says Schwartz. “I wanted to do it for fear of my health, but also because now it can be done with the state’s funding. Later I’d have to pay for it myself.”

In some cases, residents were moved, at the project’s expense, to hotels or guest houses for the duration.

After Eitanit removes all the asbestos waste from its compound, Nahariya will be able to build a boardwalk on that section of beach.

Eitanit said it is complying with the provisions of the law to prevent asbestos hazards and is cooperating with the Environmental Protection Ministry and paying its share in the project.