Major Drop in Mediterranean Pollution Off Israeli Coast, Report Says

The biggest source of pollution was removed last year when the Dan Region’s sewage treatment plants stopped pumping their sludge into the sea and began dealing with it on land

File photo: A power plant off the Israeli coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea off the Israeli coast from land-based sources has dropped significantly over the past several years, according to an Environmental Protection Ministry report issued late last month.

The biggest source of pollution was removed last year when the Dan Region’s sewage treatment plants stopped pumping their sludge (the residue from the purification process) into the sea and began dealing with it on land. But even before the plant stopped discharging its waste, a multiyear examination showed that the volume of sea pollution from sources with permits had dropped by more than 90 percent in a decade.

An interministerial committee grants permits for discharging waste into the sea to 59 facilities, based on the conviction that there is no environmentally preferable and feasible land-based alternative. The committee has also issued permits to two facilities to serve as depots for the streaming of wastewater with high salt concentration, known as brine, into the sea.

The ministry’s report, which relates to the end of 2016, surveyed all the sources that streamed effluent into the sea with a permit. The report examined various types of pollutants, including organic substances, oils, toxic metals and other chemical pollutants.

It found that according to the organic load index, which is measured by the oxygen consumption of bacteria that break down organic matter, some 6,750 tons of waste had flowed into the sea in the mid-2010s, while two years ago only 540 tons streamed into the sea. The amount of suspended solids – pollution particles – dropped from nearly 5,000 tons to 1,129 tons. One of the main reasons for this is the building of sewage treatment plants.

These pollution figures do not include the sludge from the Dan Region’s purification plant, whose share of the total sea pollution was overwhelming. Until two years ago, this sludge added an organic load of 27,000 tons to the sea — 50 times more than any other source of pollution. Last year the sludge stopped flowing into the sea. Today, the sludge undergoes an extraction and drying process in a special facility and it is then dispersed as agricultural fertilizer in the south.

The ministry report points to several sources of pollution that have been significantly alleviated, noting that the Haifa oil refinery has substantially reduced concentrated pollutants after upgrading its waste treatment plant.

There are still a number of pollution sources that need to be addressed. For example, the ministry is demanding that the Mekorot water carrier reduce the concentration of nitrogen flowing into the sea. Another problem is the discharge of pollutants into streams, some of which occurs without authorization.