Sources Say Jet Fuel Cleanup Impeded by Business Disputes

Spill caused by heavy equipment damaging pipeline owned by Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co.; Knesset Joint Committee for Health and the Environment met to discuss spill implications yesterday.

Business disputes and conflicts of interest are impeding the cleanup of Nahal Zin, after 1.5 million liters of jet fuel leaked into the Negev nature reserve, sources said.

The Knesset Joint Committee for Health and the Environment, chaired by MK Dov Khenin, met yesterday in a special session to discuss the implications of the spill, which occured when heavy equipment damaged the pipeline.

Nahal Zin spill - Eli Hershkovitz - June 2011
Eli Hershkovitz

The pipeline is owned by the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co.

Yael Mason, director of the Environmental Protection Ministry's water and streams department, claimed the cleanup is taking too long. The experts at yesterday's meeting agreed that the contaminated earth must be removed from the site to prevent the spill from spreading.

"We fear the fuel will reach the springs on the slopes of the riverbed and seriously damage the area's flora and fauna," said Raviv Shapira, who heads the southern district of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The area's vegetation already has been heavily damaged, he said.

Some of the experts partly attributed the delay to a dispute between EAPC and the operators of the waste disposal site, Efa, which was originally supposed to handle the contaminated soil. EAPC felt the site was charging too much, they said.

Eventually, the Environmental Protection Ministry gave permission for the Nesher cement plant in Ramle to use the petroleum-saturated earth as a fuel source. According to Mason, this meant the soil would have to be transported farther, and this delayed its removal yet again.

Sources pointed to the involvement of soil contamination expert Rafi Mandelbaum as an additional reason for the delay. Mandelbaum is head of the cleanup for EAPC, but is also a partner in Efa's competitor. That has raised the question of whether he might have been motivated by a conflict of interest in advocating against bringing the polluted earth to Efa.

Mandelbaum rejected this allegation yesterday. "My company is not involved in the soil removal. Our site in Ramat Hovav currently has no space for this earth, so it's irrelevant," he said. "I am careful to separate my consulting work from my involvement in the soil decontamination firm."

EAPC CEO Yair Vida said at the committee meeting yesterday that his company is trying to remove the fuel as quickly as possible, and noted that the request to haul the waste to Nesher was part of its duty, as a government company, to spend as little of the public's money as possible while getting the job done.

The nature and parks authority has photographs of the earthmoving equipment damaging the pipeline, as part of its regular supervision of EAPC's work in the area, it revealed yesterday.

Sources in the agency said this evidence refutes the company's claim that the incident occured because a park ranger instructed the vehicle driver to work in an area farther from where EAPC was carrying out renovations.