Report Exposes Radioactive Waste in Galilee, Haifa Bay

The land in Western Galilee and the Haifa Bay contains the remains of years of pollution from industrial sources and dumps, including radioactive waste, according to a recent report by the Geological Survey of Israel.

The report states that land in urban areas, even those distant from industrial facilities, has absorbed pollutants released into the air from smokestacks.

The team of scientists that wrote the report, led by Dr. Moshe Shirav-Schwartz, chemically analyzed 1,823 soil samples throughout the Western Galilee and the Haifa Bay area - checking for various toxic metals and radioactive materials. Long-term and or high exposure to such materials can lead to cancer, diseases of the central nervous system, impaired development of children and other health conditions.

Most of the metals the scientists detected came from natural sources. However, in some locales the source were industrial, including oil refineries and factories where metals had been coated. Some of these no longer exist, while others have been required by law in recent years to reduce their pollutants.

Excessive levels of industrial pollutants were found in the water of the Nahal Gdora, south of Nahal Kishon in the bay area. These included toxic metals like cadmium, lead and chrome. High concentrations of chrome were also found near the metal factory at Kibbutz Alonim. In addition, high concentrations of zinc and chrome were found in the upper part of Nahal Gaaton near the city of Ma'alot, apparently the result of illegal dumping.

The report reveals the presence of very high concentrations of uranium, a radioactive material, in the sludge that had been dredged from Nahal Kishon during the 1990s to regulate its flow. A local fertilizer factory was apparently the main source of this material. "People don't live in the area, but this area should definitely be cleaned. I know the Environmental Protection Ministry is aware of the situation," Shirav-Schwartz said yesterday.

Large quantities of toxic metals were also found in built-up areas of Haifa, Tivon, Acre and the vicinity of the bay area suburbs. The report states that these concentrations are the result of "many years of emissions of metallic elements from industrial zones" and the sinking of the material into the soil in the form of dust.

The report says its findings may assist in understanding the extent to which people in the region are exposed to environmental pollutants and their health implications.

A number of environmental groups have claimed a connection between environmental pollution and increased illness among Haifa Bay area residents. The Kishon River Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry are expected to develop a plan in the coming years that would deal with the areas to which the sludge was moved from the stream as well as with the sludge that remains at the bottom of the Kishon.