Environmental Protection Ministry says military insists on dealing with hazardous material despite being ill-equipped

Amir Ben-David
Published: 08.26.12

The Environmental Protection Ministry warned recently that IDF soldiers are required to deal with asbestos without the appropriate protective gear.

Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material. Its carcinogenic properties have resulted in a ban on its use in many nations worldwide, including Israel.

Since it poses actual danger, there are strict protocols on the handling, moving and disposing of asbestos – all of which require handlers to wear hazmat suits.

Israel’s Asbestos Law, passed in 2011, requires any facility that includes asbestos structures must use licensed contractors to dispose of them.

The military has filed a motion for an exemption, citing it cannot outsource such ventures for security reasons.

The Environmental Protection Ministry further said that the IDF claims that other than old structures, only two items in its inventory contain asbestos – armored personnel carriers’ covers and brake pads, used in heavy machinery.

The ministry initially agreed to allow the IDF to deal with the hazard independently, providing it follows a rigorous protocol, as well as hire external inspectors to review the operations.

Still, the ministry claims that the IDF has failed to hold up its end of the deal: “We have learned that soldiers are handling the APC covers,” a ministry source told Yedioth Ahronoth. “These are 18-year-old kids that haven’t been trained for this. They are being put in danger for nothing.”

Hidden dangers? Armored personnel carriers (Photo: AP)

The Environmental Protection Ministry further said that it has recently learned that the IDF report on the scope of asbestos on its bases was lacking.

After further review, the military submitted a list of an additional 140 items containing the hazardous material, including vehicles, aircraft, smoke detectors and other equipment used regularly by both the Air and Ground forces.

“Troops have been exposed to a highly hazardous material without their knowledge and without the proper protective gear,” another ministry source said.

‘Outrageous disregard for the law’

The ministry also expressed concern about the IDF’s asbestos disposal protocols: “We don’t really know what they did with the dismantled asbestos, how it was dismantled, where it was taken and so on. The potential contamination circle is huge,” the source said.

The ministry’s Hazardous Material Directorate has recently sent the Air Force, Navy and Technological and Logistics Directorate letters on the matter.

“We have found that the (asbestos) treatment performed in the IAF, INF and other military vehicles and equipment falls short of the requirements of the law,” the letters read.

“Your blatant disregard of both the law, as well as the orders of the chief medical officer, is outrageous and means the daily exposure of soldiers to asbestos.”

The ministry demands that the IDF cease all asbestos treatment and allow its experts to take over.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said that the situation was “absurd”: “It’s absurd that the very army that protects us places our sons and daughters in unnecessary rick – a risk that can be prevented.

“I’ve instructed the ministry to exhaust all the legal measures at its disposal so that the IDF complies with the law and so that soldiers are now exposed to hazardous materials unnecessarily.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed receiving the letters, adding that “The letter will be addressed through proper channels.”