Critics of the government’s efforts say the sludge should be disposed of at a regulated waste management facility, not nearby.
By Zafrir Rinat | Feb. 4, 2014 | 3:40 AM

Work is scheduled to begin soon to remove the uranium-tainted sludge at the bottom of the Kishon River in the Haifa area, where a new park is in the planning stages.

The sludge, which contains trace levels of uranium, will be purified and moved to a nearby area. The site of the park will be biologically purified.

Project officials say the trace levels currently at the site would not threaten the health of anyone visiting the park in the future. Other experts, however, say the public could be exposed to threatening levels of uranium and that the sludge should be disposed of at a regulated waste management facility.

The purification will be done by the authority responsible for draining rivers, under the supervision of the Environmental Protection Ministry. The area has been used to dispose of industrial waste for years. After the sludge is moved and purified, it will be covered in dust.

The uranium in the sludge exists naturally in a phosphate used to make fertilizer in factories near the river. According to previous studies conducted for the Environmental Protection Ministry, uranium levels in both wet and dry soil in the area were twice as high as the levels in the richest phosphates used in the area.

Officials involved in draining the river have been aware of the uranium levels in the sludge. Two years ago, the ministry conducted a study to determine the radiation levels that workers would be exposed to there; the ministry found that the levels were the same as in the area around Haifa’s port, where the levels do not pose a threat.

Still, the ministry said the measurements of uranium sources in water were inaccurate and that radiation levels would be higher in the absence of water.

An expert on measuring radioactive materials has said the ministry’s measurements are sufficient for determining guidelines for construction projects. But he says the situation in the future park could be troubling.

Visitors could be exposed to radiation at the park due to the unintentional mixing of purified waste with the topsoil, which could happen while the park is being built, he says. There is also the possibility that traces of uranium might not remain in ash piles after they are exposed to the elements.

Also, uranium could accumulate on and around plants’ roots in the park. According to the expert, keeping purified waste near the future park is therefore a mistake. Instead, it should be taken to a regulated waste management site. Another possibility is to use the material for producing uranium; doing so could yield more than 100 tons of the element.

An official for the project, for his part, said that “according to all data, there is no danger to anyone who would visit the park.”

Also, officials said that according to Environmental Protection Ministry data and guidelines, there are no health risks for workers at the site if they do not work there for more than eight months a year.