‘We must take dangerous industrial facilities out of residential areas, to minimize the risk to the population,’ says environmental protection minister.
By Zafrir Rinat

A reservoir in Haifa that holds thousands of tons of ammonia and is considered a potentially deadly environmental threat will be shut down within the next few years, according to the government.

“We must take dangerous industrial facilities out of residential areas, to minimize the risk to the population,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said last week.

Erdan and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon say the Haifa Chemicals reservoir should be closed because of the risk of a leak, which could potentially cause the deaths of hundreds, or even thousands, of people.

They did not set a specific timeline, but said the change would be made within the next few years.

The comments came before an ammonia leak from the Strauss ice cream factory in Acre on Friday, which prompted the evacuation of a nearby mall but caused no injuries.

Instead of maintaining a massive reservoir, the government recommends constructing an ammonia production plant, possibly in the Negev’s Mishor Rotem region. Because the plant would be manufacturing the chemical itself, it would not have to store such large quantities of ammonia.

Ammonia, which is derived primarily from natural gas, is used by the fertilizer industry and as a coolant in many industrial facilities. It is also used in household cleaners.

Companies including Ratio Oil Exploration and the project management and engineering firm Baran Group have shown an interest in producing ammonia in Israel and transporting it to local plants that need it.

Currently, tankers delivers thousands of tons of ammonia to the reservoir every month. The reservoir has been in the Haifa Bay area for 25 years.

Dozens of people around the world have died in several industrial disasters caused by ammonia leaks. Exposure to high levels of ammonia can also cause serious burns.

The fears of a possible ammonia leak increased after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, during which numerous missiles were fired to the Haifa bay area.

A committee of experts set up by the Environment Protection Ministry after the war recommended looking into fortifying the reservoir and prohibiting ships carrying ammonia from entering the bay in wartime.

The Haifa municipality is suing Haifa Chemicals in an effort to close the reservoir. In one of many attempts over the years to get it to stop operating, the city says the chemical company has been operating the reservoirs without the necessary permits.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav has commended the government plan to shut down the reservoir, but said the city will continue to wage its legal battle against the facility until the ministers provide a detailed timetable for its closure.