Oil Refineries Hit With NIS 150 Million Class Action Motion

Residents of five Haifa Bay area towns were exposed to noxious black smog on two occasions 2.5 years ago

Sharon Kedmi
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Sharon Kedmi

The first class action motion has been filed under the new Class Actions law, and it's an NIS 150 million lawsuit against Oil Refineries' Haifa refinery, and against Carmel Olefins - which is half-owned by Oil Refineries and half by Israel Petrochemical Enterprises (TASE: PTCH). One of the Petrochemicals' shareholders is Russian-Israeli businessman Leonid Nevzlin.

The lawsuit, filed by residents of Kiryat Tivon and the surrounding area, is all about smog. It focuses on two events.

The events happened about 2.5 years ago, when black smoke started to belch from the Oil Refineries' chimneys in Haifa. For hours the sky over the Haifa Bay area turned black. Residents of Kiryat Tivon, Rechasim, Nofit, Sha'ar Ha'Amakim and Kfar Hassidim were advised to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activities.

On the first occasion the residents of all five towns stayed indoors but could not escape the stench and oppressive feeling, they say.

After the events, the Environment Ministry set up an inquiry. When its report was filed, so were charges against Oil Refineries and Carmel Olefin. Recently a verdict was handed down against Oil Refineries and its manager, Yashar Ben-Mordechay, who was sentenced to 150 hours' community service. The Haifa Magistrates Court hit Oil Refineries with an NIS 1.6 million fine for causing pollution in 2003. It was the highest fine any Israeli court had ever imposed on a company for air pollution.

The class action motion was filed by two residents of Kiryat Tivon, who seek to represent the residents of all five towns. They are demanding NIS 5,000 each for the damage suffered, including fear and anxiety, and impairment of their autonomy, including through placing their health at risk.

The reason the suit has only been filed now, 2.5 years after the events, is because the new law expands the scope of class action motions, explains their lawyer. Under the new rules, environmental disruption can be cause for a class action.

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