10/22/2010 04:39

Unprecedented gov’t environmental survey brings some encouraging news on cleaner air and water reuse, but it’s not all happy reading.

The Environmental Protection Ministry released the first summary of Israel’s environmental issues by the numbers late Wednesday night – and it makes for a mixed read of improvements and deteriorations.

The report, entitled “The Environment in Israel – Indicators, Data and Trends, 2010,” outlines an unprecedented more than 100 measurements of environmental pollution, water use and other related issues. It puts together for the first time statistical data about pollution, and charts trends from the mid-90s to 2008.

While pollution levels could be better, the report indicates that several significant pollution measurements have been on the decline for the last decade. For instance, air pollution has dropped as a result of cleaner gasoline, switching from oil to natural gas to run power stations and many more cars with catalytic converters. There are also other relatively positive shifts in levels of water reuse. But the report’s section on land contamination, for instance, makes for grim reading.

“This document compiles data on more than one hundred different indicators dealing with the main environmental resources: land, air, water, marine and biodiversity,” according to the English executive summary of the report, which was compiled by the ministry’s Chief Scientist Dr. Yehoshua Bar-Or, and Dr. Orna Metzner.

Added Ministry Director-General Yossi Inbar in the preface: “These trends should help us figure out where to allocate our resources and decide on the agenda which is reflected in the work programs.”

Here are some of the key statistics and trends.

Land: “The scope of built space in Israel totaled 1,147.5 square kilometers in 2007, or 5.3% of the country’s land area. Built space in the Tel Aviv region constitutes twothirds of the total space, while in the northern and southern regions built space ranges between 2%-6%. Some 83.5 square kilometers of built space were added between 1998 and 2007 throughout the country.

Contaminated land: “As of 2008, some 1,195 contaminated sites were identified in Israel. The largest number of contaminated sites (316) was discovered in the Tel Aviv region as a result of numerous industrial plants and military and industrial workshops. Their activities were responsible for land contamination and large-scale groundwater pollution throughout the Tel Aviv metropolitan area (Gush Dan),” according to the report.

The report singled out gas stations in particular.

“In most of the older gas stations, soil contamination was discovered, and groundwater pollution was also found in 32% of the sites,” it said.

“In the soils of the Western Galilee,” it added, “aggregations of industrial asbestos waste exist due to past dispersion of asbestos waste for soil stabilization and cover.”

Air: Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan has said fighting air pollution and dealing with climate change are two of the ministry’s top priorities.

The report found that “In 2008, measurements of fine respirable particles exceeded acceptable values in all of Israel’s monitoring stations. Sulfur dioxide concentrations have dramatically decreased in recent years due to improved fuel quality in power plants and industry and due to the switch to natural gas in the Ashdod power plant.

“Nitrogen oxide concentrations in transportation monitoring stations, situated near major traffic arteries, have shown a downward trend since 2000. However, in 2008, nitrogen dioxide measurements exceeding standards were still recorded in all transportation and general monitoring stations in Israel,” the writers of the report noted. There were also excessive amounts of lead in industrial areas and benzene near traffic arteries and fuel depots though “carbon monoxide values were low.”

One of the main air pollution sources is electricity production. The data indicates that pollution has decreased in recent years because of stricter standards for fuel and the switch to natural gas in several power stations such as Eshkol, Reading, Hagit and Gezer.

Although Israel’s contribution of greenhouse gases to the global amount is minuscule, Israel has pledged to reduce its emissions.

“Between 1996 and 2007, greenhouse gas emissions to the air (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane) in Israel grew by 14 million tons. Between 2000 and 2007, there was a significant reduction in the specific emission per capita (0.82 tons) of greenhouse gases. On the other hand, in 2007, an increase relative to 2006 was noted (0.11 tons).

“The main source of carbon dioxide emissions is fuel combustion, mostly for electricity production and fuel refining. The second source is fuel combustion for transportation, and to a lesser extent, fuel combustion for the manufacturing and construction industries. The main source of methane emissions to the air is municipal waste (between 75% to 78%),” said the report.

Water: “Freshwater consumption for all uses decreased from 1,591 million cubic meters (MCM) in 1996 to 1,309 MCM in 2002, with a slight increase in 2008 to 1,337,” the report found.

“Agriculture’s part decreased over the past decade from 43% of the total freshwater for consumption in 2001 to 36% in 2008, while the part of the domestic sector in total freshwater consumption rose from 37% in 1996 to 57% in 2008. The agricultural sector supplemented its water requirements by increasing its effluent reuse. Relative to other developed or industrial states worldwide, Israel makes use of nearly all its renewable water sources for domestic use, agriculture and industry. This has had an adverse impact on freshwater sources and wetlands, and the flora and fauna there,” the report noted.

The seesawing back and forth between drought years and rainy years has put a lot of stress on Lake Kinneret. Aside from seasonal effects, the report’s compilers added that “The concentration of fecal bacteria in the Kinneret waters is higher than permitted by Israel’s drinking water standard (0 total coliforms per 100 ml).”

Treating wastewater and effluent reuse has also grown over the years. “The quantity of treated wastewater increased from 354 MCM in 1998 to 471 MCM in 2008. In this period, the quantity of wastewater treated to at least secondary level grew from 223 MCM to 416 MCM. The percent of effluents reused for irrigation purposes in Israel in 2008 was the highest in the world (82% of the total municipal wastewater),” according to the report.

Cadmium and mercury concentrations in the Kishon River sediments have been declining steadily since 1997, while the coral reef in Eilat has been stable for the last decade.

Biodiversity: Few species were in danger of extinction in Israel, but there were 200 alien species of which 50 were invasive.

Radiation: “The average levels of non-ionizing radiation in localities in the vicinity of large transmission stations are some 650 nanowatts per square centimeter, mostly deriving from AM radio broadcasting (some 90%),’ said the report. “In large cities and other localities with cell sites, the average measured levels range between 60 nanowatts per square centimeter to 80 nanowatts per square centimeter. Some 60% of the exposure in these localities is attributed to cell sites and the rest to distant radio stations (AM and short wave). The lowest levels, less than 20 nanowatts per square centimeter, were measured in localities without cell sites and in open space in the Golan Heights.

Waste: Erdan has also put waste management at the top of his list of priorities during his tenure.

The report found that the quantity of solid waste in Israel has reached 11,300 tons per year. “Of this, some 4,400 tons per year are municipal waste, some 1,600 tons per year are industrial waste and about 4,000 tons per year are construction waste. The average quantity of municipal waste per capita per day in Israel was 1.6 kilograms per day in 2008, some 585 kilograms per year, similar to the situation in some European states.

“In 2008, 12.5% of the municipal waste was recycled, 25% of the municipal and industrial waste was recycled and 45.5% of the construction waste was recycled. All of Israel’s coal ash is recycled, mostly for the construction industry,” said the report.

“The quantity of hazardous waste transferred for treatment as of 2004 is estimated at 300,000 tons per year. Some 65% of this waste is disposed by means of incineration and evaporation, landfilling, physicochemical treatment and biological treatment. Between 30%-40% of Israel’s hazardous waste undergoes recovery and a small amount is exported for treatment abroad,” the report concluded.