Report: 15% of Cancer Cases in Haifa Due to Air Pollution

Heath Ministry publishes figures following objections to plans to expand oil refineries, build new fuel storage depot in Haifa Bay.

Moran Mayan

Some 15 percent of all cancer cases in the Haifa Bay area can be attributed to air pollution, according to a new Health Ministry report. The report, which covers the decade from 1998 to 2007, says some 780 cases of cancer in the Haifa Bay area, including 30 children, were related to exposure to air pollution.

In particular, the ministry notes that there were increased instances in the Haifa Bay area relative to the rest of the country of lung cancer and bladder cancer, both associated with air pollution.

The assessment is part of an opinion paper recently issued by the Health Ministry to the Interior Ministry official who oversees objections to planned development and construction. The opinion paper was released as part of the continued discussion of objections submitted to the National Planning and Building Council against a plan to build a new fuel storage depot in the Haifa Bay.

Last month the ministry issued a report that stated the existence of a causative connection between air pollution and increased instances of cancer in the Haifa Bay area relative to other parts of the country. That report came following an objection submitted to a different plan, to expand the Haifa Bay area’s oil refineries.

It was in response to that report that the ministry was asked by the National Planning and Building Council’s objections committee to submit its findings in greater detail.

One of the two objections submitted at the time was by an environmental epidemiologist, Ella Naveh, a Haifa resident. Naveh said that the construction of the fuel depot will mean that larger quantities of fuel will be transported through the area, which will increase health risks to residents.

This week the Health Ministry provided a more detailed report, written by the head of its public health services, Prof. Itamar Grotto. Grotto reiterated information released in the past, that from 1998 to 2007, the risk of contracting any type of cancer was 16 percent greater in the Haifa area than elsewhere in the country. “Out of 4,860 cases of cancer, an estimated 780 were cases of excess morbidity in the Haifa region as a result of exposure to air pollution. For children aged 0–14, out of 60 cases of cancer, it may be estimated that approximately 30 cases were excess morbidity in the Haifa region as a result of air pollution,” Grotto wrote.

Grotto noted that in those same years, the risk of contracting lung cancer in Haifa was 29 percent higher than other parts of the country, and the risk of bladder cancer was 26 percent higher. According to Grotto, the difference cannot be attributed to smoking, because the rate of smoking in Haifa is not higher than in the rest of the country.

A few weeks ago an epidemiological study was launched in Haifa, led by the Haifa Region Association of Towns for Wastewater and Environmental Quality, the University of Haifa and the Health Ministry. The goal of the survey is to assess the extent of the connection between pollution and illness in the area. However, the Health Ministry decided not to wait for the results of the survey, but to release its report on the causative connection between pollution and illness, as well as to quote the figures.