Knesset panel: Haifa Oil Refineries air pollution must be cut
Mayor Yona Yahav agrees, says five-year study about to start.
By Zafrir Rinat and Eli Ashkenazi | Aug. 1, 2014

A Knesset subcommittee has recommended stricter measures to reduce the air pollution caused by Haifa’s Oil Refineries, in view of the high cancer rate in the Haifa Bay.

The panel, appointed by the head of the Knesset’s Interior and Environmental Protection Committee, MK Miri Regev, said Thursday that the authorities’ steps to control air pollution in the area were insufficient.

The panel warned against expanding the Oil Refineries’ activity and against setting up more facilities for storing dangerous substances in Haifa.

A study released in September 2010 based on long-term statistical data has demonstrated the link between lung cancer in men and air pollution in the Haifa Bay region.

Some three months ago Haifa’s main planning committee approved a master plan allowing the northern city’s Oil Refineries and nearby industries to continue operating, despite numerous objections by environmental groups.

The subcommittee, headed by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), on Thursday submitted its report to the Interior and Environmental Protection Committee.

Health Ministry figures show that in 2006-2012 the cancer rate in the Haifa area was 15 percent higher than in the overall population. By contrast, the cancer rate in the Tel Aviv district was only 3 percent higher than among Israelis at large.

The Environmental Protection Ministry figures provided by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center showed that the emission of dangerous substances, some of them cancerous, was still considerable in the Haifa area. The industries in Haifa emit 2,400 tons of volatile organic compounds, some of them cancerous, a year, compared to 111 tons a year in the Negev’s Ramat Hovav, the subcommittee said.

“We know the Health Ministry’s morbidity rate figures cannot prove a causal link to pollution in the legal sense, and that the cancer rate develops over years,” Khenin said at the meeting. “It is also possible that the high cancer rate is linked to pollution that existed in the past, but we cannot prove it. So we must take precautionary steps and not make decisions that could endanger the public’s health.”

The panel recommended setting stricter goals for reducing air pollution. It rejected the recent decision made by Haifa’s planning committee, which enables expanding the Oil Refineries’ activity on the assumption that it would not lead to added pollution.

The panel also said that not all the dangerous substances in the air were monitored and the chimney emissions had not been checked since 2013, due to budget constraints.

Over the last three years more than 60 incidents involving the emission of dangerous materials, such as leaks and fires, occurred in the Haifa Bay, the subcommittee found.

The panel recommended conducting an overall examination of the high concentration of dangerous compounds in the area, especially in view of the security risks.

“We must consider what dangerous substances Israel really needs in large quantities,” the panel’s report says. “After this issue is examined, it will be necessary to examine the location of the industries and the dangerous substances, according to their proximity to population concentrations.”

Although it has recently been decided to relocate some of the reservoirs of dangerous materials in the Haifa region, the panel said the new location was also close to Haifa. The panel recommends setting strict storage conditions and taking steps to prevent air pollution from the new compound.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, who attended the session, said he accepted the recommendation not to make do with the existing pollution levels, adding that the city would act to reduce the air pollution further.

Yahav said an epidemiological survey would be launched soon to examine the connection between disease rate and environmental pollution in the Haifa Bay. The survey was to be completed in five years, he said.

“The survey will provide a better picture of the region’s residents’ state of health,” Yahav said.

He said so far the municipality has been alone in its struggle to reduce the concentrations of dangerous substances in the area. He also said he feared delays in relocating Haifa Chemicals’ ammonia tank to the Negev.