Environmental group urges more studies to assessimpact of air quality on health.
By Zafrir Rinat

Despite a decline in pollution in the Haifa Bay area over the years, the mortality rate among residents there is higher than in other parts of the country, according to a study by an environmental group.

The Public Health Coalition, which works to reduce pollution levels, enlisted experts from the University of Haifa to analyze data collected by the Central Bureau of Statistics for the years 2006 to 2008. The researchers, Shai Linn and Keren Agay-Shay, found that residents of the Haifa Bay area had higher mortality rates due to diseases in which environmental factors, like air pollution, play a role.
Haifa Bay – Moran Mayan

The Haifa Bay area has a high concentration of industrial plant
Photo by: Moran Mayan

The group acknowledged that the study did not enable it to state categorically that the cause of the disparities in death rates was environmental, “but it presents a picture that could also point to pollution problems and clarifying the matter requires the collection of additional data,” it said. The study only examined data on the Jewish population, because the extent of data on the Arab population was too small for statistically significant analysis.

The researchers looked at death rates from conditions in which studies have shown environmental factors, particularly air pollution, to be a cause. The medical conditions include arterial blockage, heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease. They found that the Haifa district – where much of the country’s heavy industry is located – and the north as a whole had mortality that in connection with some of the data was higher than any other specific region of the country. The death rates for both men and women were higher with respect to every disease studied, at times by as much as 20 percent.

For men, there was particular disparity in deaths due to high blood pressure in the Haifa area. The disparity was wide for both men and women with kidney disease and significantly higher for women in the Haifa district and the north as a whole due to heart disease and diabetes.

The Health Ministry confirmed the higher mortality rates in the north compared to the national average from diabetes and high blood pressure, but said the national rate was brought down by lower rates in the Jerusalem area. The ministry said the data had to be analyzed to look at other risk factors, such as overweight, smoking and occupational factors. Rates in the north, it added, were similar to mortality levels from diabetes and high blood pressure suffered by patients in Tel Aviv and the south, and the mortality rate from heart attacks was also similar. Deaths from arterial blockages were indeed higher in the north, however, the Health Ministry acknowledged.

The ministry noted that mortality rates for many other conditions among patients in the north were similar to the national average and expressed surprise that the researchers did not include the country’s Arab population in the study.

Members of the Public Health Coalition said although air pollution levels in the Haifa Bay area have declined, an investigation should be conducted as to why higher mortality rates have persisted there. “It should be remembered that plants operated in the area for decades that emitted large amounts of pollution, and it’s possible that this has had long-term implications on residents’ health,” said James Krikon of the coalition. Coalition members also said there may be other kinds of pollution in the area that have remained and this should be examined further.