Israel Pledges to Reduce Poisonous Emissions in Haifa

This is the first time the Environmental Protection Ministry has taken the official position that strict regulations governing the levels of pollution are not enough.

Baz Ratner

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay called to reduce operations of the petrochemical industries in the Haifa Bay area, and broached transferring some of these facilities to other parts of the country. This is the first time the ministry has taken the official position that strict regulations governing the levels of pollution are not enough, and that steps must be taken to limit operations in the region.

In Kiryat Tivon, southeast of Haifa, dozens of residents demonstrated and called on the local government to remove fuel tanks located in the town. The plan for the area states that the fuel tanks will be moved elsewhere, but the project has been delayed.

A protest against pollution in Kiryat Tivon, southeast of Haifa, February 29, 2016.
Rami Shllush

Gabbay discussed the air quality in Haifa on Monday at the Environment 2050 conference in Tel Aviv. The minister said he was unaware of the extent of the industries’ activities before he was appointed. “Only when I sailed in a boat in the bay as part of my job did I see this was a huge bloc of factories within an urban area in which 1 million people live,” he said.

Even if all the factories in the Haifa Bay area meet the pollution standards set by his ministry, the residents will still face health issues, said Gabbay. “Every factory may emit a little, but when it is all the factories together it is a lot,” he said. As a result, he would act to “dilute” the petrochemical industry in Haifa and even move parts of it — though he did not say where. The idea has precedent: A hazardous waste materials facility is scheduled to be moved soon to the Neot Hovav industrial area south of Be’er Sheva in the Negev, and a large ammonia tank in the bay area will also be moved to the south.

Gabbay even questioned whether if was justified to operate oil refineries in Israel, giving the example of Australia, which imports all its refined fuel products.

The ministry’s target is reduce the emission of poisonous industrial material in the Haifa area by 20 percent this year, and by 50 percent in 2018.

Gabbay said the Health Ministry estimates air pollution causes the deaths of 1,500 people every year in Israel. “The number of dead is much greater than the number who die in accidents or as a result of murder,” he said.