By SHARON UDASIN 02/02/2012 06:08
Available pollution info is lacking, green group says.
Pollution By REUTERS
The brunt of lower and western Galilee factories does not comply with the standards of the Clean Air Law, a local green group found.

Only two of three surveyed wastewater-treatment facilities in the region comply with the country’s sewage regulations, Citizens for the Environment in the Galilee (CFE) said.

The group published its third annual report this week in a series called “Industrial Silence,” in which it examined 30 factories in the North for 2009-2010 and determined whether these industries are meeting environmental standards as stipulated by law and by international standards – as well as whether authorities are monitoring their environmental practices appropriately.

While both the Environmental Protection Ministry and local authorities have increased the amount of industrial pollution data available to the public in recent years, the information is still largely incomplete and indicates that the facts are not up to par, according to the report.

While the ministry publishes information on most factories’ air sampling results, it does not include their sewage analyses, the authors charged, noting that even after filing information appeals, they were only able to obtain fewer than 40 percent of the sewage analyses requested.

Of the 12 local authorities in which the factories are located, only the Kiryat Shmona municipality compiles data and samples about the plants within its jurisdiction, and eight of the cities do not even have an environmental department.

Some authorities, however, such as the Jezreel Valley Regional Council and the Upper Galilee Regional Council, are making positive strides toward improving their environmental monitoring systems, the report acknowledged.

Of the 27 factories in which air quality had been monitored – the remaining three were sewage facilities, and air quality was deemed irrelevant – 21 are not currently up to the standards of the Clean Air Law. Meanwhile, only six of the 30 total factories performed all the tests required of them in the conditions of their business licenses.

Two of the three sewage facilities examined complied with the Public Health Regulations: Effluent Quality Standards and Sewage Treatment Regulations. The report, however, noted that in most of the periodic tests conducted at the facilities, testers only checked for a small portion of the hazardous materials that could be present in the sewage.

“In the current situation, where the Ministry of Environmental Protection is only capable of monitoring a very small portion of the factories in Israel, there is no choice but allowing other entities to take part in this effort,” the report concluded, noting that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently made similar recommendations to Israel.

“The local authorities must immediately begin to monitor factories in their jurisdiction, including the compilation of information, controlling and sanctioning, where necessary,” it added.

Local authorities must also require factories to publish the results of their periodic tests, and factories should both improve their wastewater treatment systems and reuse their water, the report added. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Ministry must increase its supervision over hazardous sites and improve the data collection process as well as its enforcement program, ensuring that Israel’s standards are those of international caliber, according to the report.

“Stop ‘negotiating’ with the local polluters,” the authors wrote.

The Knesset, in turn, must establish legislation that would mandate the publication of business licenses for industrial sewage operations, the report added.

As for the public and the people who work at the factories, it is crucial that employees get regular blood tests to monitor toxin levels in their blood, and for citizens to demand information about the industrial areas around them, according to the green group.

“They must act for civil enforcement against polluting factories in their residential areas,” the report said.

In response, the ministry said the report presents “a misleading picture” as to how the ministry deals with factories in the North.

To streamline the monitoring process, the ministry has initiated a reform that would map out which factories generate the most risk and allow for targeted inspections and enforcement activities, but due to the finance ministry’s opposition, has not received the necessary government approval for the program. In the meantime, the ministry continues to impose financial sanctions on lawbreakers, the ministry added.

“The ministry works tirelessly and sets uncompromising demands of all those whose activities harm the environment,” a statement from the office said. “The ministry makes use of every means in its hands and the limited amount of manpower available to it to monitor the hundreds of thousands of factories and businesses operating in the State of Israel.”