07/14/2011 04:37

Company will regain license only after completing rigorous safety review.
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Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan announced during the Knesset plenum on Wednesday that his office was revoking the toxics license for the Haifa Chemicals plant due to “severe deficiencies in the maintenance facilities and storage of hazardous materials,” the ministry announced later that day.

In addition to revoking the license itself, the ministry also issued the company a court order to evacuate the hazardous substances, as is dictated by the Hazardous Substances Law. The decision to make these orders was determined following a July 10 tour of the facility led by the ministry’s Haifa district manager, Shlomo Katz, during which officials determined that the company was violating both their permit conditions and the law with regards to storage of toxins, prevention of toxic emissions to the environment, waste treatment, hazardous materials and other issues, according to the ministry statement. The plant will not be allowed to resume operations until a comprehensive safety review has indicated that all of the problems have been completely corrected.

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“We have a responsibility to ensure that the level of plant maintenance is not undermined and that safety deficiencies that will hurt the environment, factory workers and unprotected area residents,” Erdan said in the statement.

The ministry officials decided to inspect the plant after a 70-day workers’ strike had caused most plant operations, including facility maintenance, to cease, the ministry said. According to the order issued to the company, Haifa Chemicals must evacuate 1,000 tons worth of hazardous chemicals within 14 days, including ammonia, nitric acid, phosphoric acid, organic solvents and others.

Following the removal, as part of the review process, the company must hire an external firm to conduct risk analysis and appraise system malfunctions, only after which will the Environment Ministry determine the next steps of action required, prior to reinstallation of the toxics permit, the statement said.

MK Dov Henin (Hadash), chairman of the Knesset’s Environment and Health Committee, welcomed what he called a “dramatic announcement” and praised the ministry’s decision.

“The important decision of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Haifa district manager, Mr. Shlomo Katz, is the proper response to the Environment and Health Committee’s demands, which spoke of a difficult and disturbing picture of environmental and safety risks that existed in the factory due to the strike that persists there,” Henin said in a statement.

“We called upon the ministry, immediately after discovering this alarming picture, to exercise its authority and revoke the toxics permit from the plant. The result from today’s decision will be that the health and life of residents in the region and factory workers are not abandoned.”

Representatives from the Green Movement and the Coalition for Public Health also lauded the Environmental Protection Ministry’s actions, declaring in a joint statement: “We hope that the order is fully implemented and enforced for the benefit and safety of the Haifa Bay area residents. We continue to call upon the ministry to enforce its authority on other factories and check the safety protocols in all existing stockpiles of hazardous materials in the area.”

Haifa Chemicals CEO Nadav Shachar could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.