03/15/2011 04:58

Material long-known to be carcinogenic still used in mixtures with concrete; bill to go into effect by August.
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The Asbestos Bill was approved by the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Monday for its final readings. The bill is expected to pass through the rest of the legislative process without trouble and go into effect by August.

The bill would prohibit the use of asbestos in any form in Israel and would mandate the removal of existing asbestos over the next 10 years. Asbestos fibers are a known carcinogenic.

Hundreds of millions of square meters have been built using a concrete and asbestos – 90 percent concrete and 10% asbestos – mixture, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry. If the concrete remains intact, then the asbestos remains dormant. However, if the concrete breaks or crumbles – from construction work, extreme weather or a missile attack – then the fibers are released into the air and can cause cancer.

Asbestos has also been used for insulation, where it is crumbled and placed inside walls. The fibers become carcinogenic when they interact with air.

While it was originally thought that only intensive exposure over long periods of time to asbestos caused cancer, it is now believed that even small to medium-sized amounts can be harmful.

A portion of the bill deals specifically with the western Galilee, where the Eitanit factory produced asbestos for decades until it was shut down in 1997, and where fibers were used as part of construction in everything from homes to playgrounds. The company will pay half of the NIS 300 million cost for cleaning up the area.

“The bill reinforces the ‘polluter pays’ principle, even if the contamination was decades ago. No one has the right to pollute the environment and harm the public’s health and whoever does will have to pay for the damage caused,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement.

Once the law goes into effect, violators can be fined up to NIS 800,000 according to the criminal code.