Israel's Finance Ministry Stymies Hazardous-materials Warning System

National network of detection sensors not set up due to budget shortfall.

Hagay Frid

The Environmental Protection Ministry has begun setting up a national system for locating and warning about incidents involving hazardous materials. The Defense Ministry assisted in the project, but so far the Finance Ministry has not approved the required budget for running the system, which the Environmental Protection Ministry defines as vital for saving lives.

Following the Environmental Protection Ministry’s initiative, the Defense Ministry issued a request for information from companies. The purpose of the system is to locate leaks from stationary and mobile facilities, provide a report for professionals sent to handle such incidents and warn citizens so that they might take protective measures.

The system was supposed to also use sensors capable of locating leaks of hazardous materials in low concentrations, and transmit a warning to the situation rooms that would be run by the Home Front Command and the Environmental Protection Ministry. Several chemical plants in Israel already have a detector system that enables them to locate leaks.

According to the Defense Ministry’s request for information, the companies that operate the system will have to use devices capable of measuring the size of a cloud of hazardous materials, as well as tracking its location and the path of its spread. The system will be comprised of localized sensors and sensors capable of keeping track of a large area, that will identify the types of materials and assess their concentration in the air. Such information is vital in incidents such as the one that took place in Emek Hefer recently, when an ammonia leak killed a firefighter. Precise information on the concentration and spread of the material might have helped the firefighters handle the leak.

Several chemical materials have been defined as high-priority for tracking because of the potential risk in their use and storage, including ammonia, bromine, phosgene (a material similar to nerve gas), chlorine compounds and hydrogen sulphide.

Ten complexes have been designated as high-priority for setting up sensors. These include cooling facilities with ammonia in the Be’er Tuvia industrial zone, Haifa Bay, Ashdod and the Sderot industrial zone. The Dead Sea Works area and the Ne’ot Hovav industrial zone, both of which contain large concentrations of hazardous materials including bromine and chlorine, are also on the list, as are 13 complexes in the Haifa area, including a natural-gas depot in the Oil Refineries facility, petrochemical plants that contain ethylene, an ammonia container in the Kishon port and an urban sewage-purification plant that contains a large amount of chlorine for purification purposes.

A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Ministry said, “This is an obligatory, vital infrastructure for saving human lives, whose cost is estimated at 70 million shekels. For this reason, the environmental protection ministers contacted the finance ministers several times in recent years, but unfortunately, the treasury did not budget this important project.”

No response from the Finance Ministry has been received yet.