Asbestos-linked Cancer 10 Times More Prevalent in Nahariya

Data presented to the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee shows failure to tackle asbestos problem in the Western Galilee.

The rate of lung cancer among residents of Nahariya is 10 times higher than in the rest of the country, according to data submitted Monday by the chief doctor of the Health Ministry's Acre District, Shihab Shihab, to the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee.

Shihab attributed 70% of incidences of the Mesothelioma-type cancer, a rare disease affecting the covering of the lung (the pleura), to exposure to asbestos. Smoking was also indicated as a factor that could multiply the risk.

Internal Affairs Committee Chairman Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) said, "People pay with their lives and the authorities demonstrate intolerable apathy. Bureaucracy cannot be allowed to kill."

The committee held a brief discussion on Monday, initiated by MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz), on the lack of action to combat the asbestos problem in Nahariya.

Head of the Environment Ministry's Asbestos Department Tamar Bar On said that between 70 to 150 thousand cubic meters of asbestos could be found scattered across the Western Galilee, mainly in private yards - especially in Nahariya and the Matte Asher Regional Council.

During the discussion Monday, it emerged that the Environment Ministry had transferred NIS 3 million to the Nahariya municipality in order to combat the asbestos problem. However, none of the money was used. According to municipality Director General Danny Hamias, the money wasn't used because it was earmarked for clearing asbestos in three specific sites, and in two of those sites no asbestos was found. He added that "not a single shekel is devoted to combating the problem."

In response, Pines-Paz asked Hamias: "Do you sleep well with this at night?" According to Pines-Paz, "residents pay for this hazard with their lives, and instead of running from minister to minister with budget requests, the city council is busy planting flowers."

"The city council's aim to prevent panic and avoid harming the area's tourism looks like one of the reasons that the subject hasn't received the appropriate emergency treatment up until now," Beilin said.

The Internal Affairs Committee has decided to establish a panel, to be chaired by Beilin, in order to address the asbestos problem in Nahariya.