Court delays cancellation of Oil Refineries business licenses in Haifa
By SHARON UDASIN 04/20/2015

The Haifa Municipal Court ordered a delay in the cancellation of Israel Oil Refineries Ltd. (ORL) business licenses on Monday, a day after the city’s mayor issued termination orders to the company and its subsidiaries.

Honoring ORL’s request, the court granted an injunction to delay the cancellation until a future decision, scheduling a discussion in the presence of both parties for Tuesday, the firm reported to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

After blockading factory entrances with municipal trucks on Sunday morning, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav sent license cancellation letters later that day to Israel Corporation- owned ORL and its subsidiaries Carmel Olefins and Gadiv Petrochemical Industries Ltd., as well as to Haifa Chemicals.

In doing so, Yahav argued that recently circulated data linking air pollution to cancer incidence in the Haifa Bay region indicate that these facilities “constitute a risk to residents of Haifa.”

The data in question resurfaced after Prof. Itamar Grotto, director of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services, recently sent a letter to the appeals supervisor in the Interior Ministry’s National Planning Administration, in response to objections regarding the expansion of oil refineries in the area.

Grotto primarily based his letter on a 2013 article published in the American Journal of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, which examined cancer prevalence in the Haifa region from 1998 through 2007.

Citing the article, he explained that over the 10-year period, about 780 of the 4,860 cancer cases found in the region likely resulted from air pollution.

Of the 60 cancer cases that occurred in children from ages 0 to 14, about 30 were probably linked to air pollution, he wrote.

Although acknowledging the gravity of air pollution problems in the region, both the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Haifa District Municipal Association for Environmental Protection agreed that monitoring efforts and regulatory steps taken in recent years have significantly improved air quality.

During the past six years alone, the Environment Ministry said, air pollution levels have decreased by 70 percent.

Nonetheless, Yahav is demanding that the government immediately clarify the “real data,” adding that until he has a clear understanding of the true situation in the region, he “will not allow the operation of fuels and chemicals in the Haifa Bay.”

Meanwhile, about 15 km. south from Haifa, residents of the coastal Carmel town of Atlit followed in the mayor’s footsteps on Monday morning, by blockading a factory within their jurisdiction.

Accusing the Carmel Resins factory of violating business license terms and contaminating the surrounding environment, several dozen Atlit residents protested outside the plant’s fences and briefly prevented company trucks from passing through the area. On Monday evening, Atlit parents and children who could not make it to the morning protest gathered to demonstrate once again on a town soccer field near the factory, which is a subsidiary of Gil Dankner’s Dor Chemicals.

“The events in the past week in Haifa triggered the rage in our community,” Nir Moses-Heller, the spokesman for the Atlit residents, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday afternoon. “We are struggling for almost 10 years.”

Most recently, residents faced issues with the factory in June 2014, when they reported harsh chemical odors and burning sensations in their eyes to the Environmental Protection Ministry. After detecting a spillage of benzyl chloride, the ministry temporarily revoked the plant’s permit for hazardous materials production.

Following this incident, the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council sent Carmel Resins notice that it would be canceling the firm’s business license, but first allowing a 60-day response time that was eventually doubled, Moses-Heller explained. He added that as of November 2014, the factory has been operating without a proper business license.

Regarding the legal status of the factory, a spokesman for Hof Hacarmel Regional Council – in which Atlit is located – stressed that the council “operates strictly according to the powers vested in it by law,” including in terms of business licensing. Documents obtained from the Environmental Protection Ministry indicated that Carmel Resins significantly reduced its hazardous materials usage in the past year, which enabled the ministry to grant an emissions permit, the spokesman explained.

“The plant is in the midst of regulatory proceedings and has already received approval from the Israel Fire and Rescue Services,” the spokesman said. “Therefore, from a legal perspective, there is no basis to file in these circumstances an indictment against the factory on the basis of failing to comply with a business license.”

Oran Uzrad, deputy chairman of Hof Hacarmel Regional Council, stressed that over the course of the past year, the Atlit residents and the regional council members have been “fighting a common struggle” and together made several achievements.

“The plant significantly reduced the amount of hazardous substances, the level of emissions from the plant decreased substantially, the level of emissions monitoring and transparency of data increased and the plant operates according to the most stringent fire standards,” Uzrad added.

However, about a month and a half ago, the Environmental Protection Ministry once again revoked a Carmel Resins toxins permit – this time specifically for the production of formalin, a commercial solution of formaldehyde, the ministry said on Monday. As part of an enforcement operation, ministry officials said they decided to rescind the permits for this material, which they described as “an essential material to the production process at the factory.”

In response to the protests, a spokesman for Carmel Resins stressed that the factory has been “an important element in the creation of Atlit” since its establishment in the 1960s.

Since the original Carmel Chemicals site was shut down in December 2013 and replaced by Carmel Resins, the factory has reduced its use of hazardous materials by 90%, the spokesman said. Over the past three years, the factory has converted a significant portion of its production line to items not based on hazardous materials, and all products have been deemed non-dangerous, he added.

“As part of our respect for the residents of Atlit and the desire to maintain good neighborly relations with them, all transport trucks to and from the plant travel via a detour rather than through residential areas,” the spokesman said. “Factory activity is monitored and checked continuously by the Hadera District Municipal Association for the Environment and is regularly monitored by the various authorities.”

Moses-Heller and his fellow Atlit activists maintained, however, that they are determined “to close the compound.”

“The factory is 200m. from our houses, near the train station, 500m from the elementary school,” he said.

Describing how residents intermittently smell fumes emanating from the factory and hear about regulators identifying problems, Moses-Heller said that they “don’t have any trust in the system.”

Praising Yahav for signing closure orders in Haifa, Moses-Heller called upon the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council chairman to do the same.

“We just want the regulators and the government to protect us,” he said. “If they are allowing this factory to keep working while they know it is not [doing so according to] regulation, they are not fulfilling their obligation to us. They need to protect us.”
Haifa mayor blockades city’s polluting factories, orders license cancellations -JERUSALEM POST
SHARON UDASIN 04/20/2015

Over 10 years about 780 of the 4,860 cancer cases – including lung and bladder cancer – found in the region likely resulted from air pollution exposure

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav deployed municipal trucks to block the entrances to contaminating factories and signed orders for their closure on Sunday.

He took the measures after last week’s media reports linking the high air pollution in the Haifa Bay area to increased incidences of cancer.

“The Israeli government declared a few days ago a war on the residents of a third of Israel,” Yahav said. “Israel cannot abandon the health of the residents of the bay and operate as if ‘all is well.’” Last Tuesday, Health Ministry officials acknowledged a causal link between air pollution and higher than normal cancer rates in area. On Sunday morning, Yahav instructed about 10 municipal trucks to block the entrances to the Israel Oil Refineries Ltd. complex and the Haifa Port’s chemicals terminal.

By Sunday afternoon, Yahav signed orders canceling the business licenses of several factories in the city, saying the recently circulated data indicates that these facilities “constitute a risk to residents of Haifa.” Among the plants to receive the orders were Israel Oil Refineries, Haifa Chemicals, Carmel Olefins, and Gadiv Petrochemical Industries Ltd.

“Submitting a request to court will not annul or postpone this decision, unless a court order is received that commands the nullification/postponement or delay,” Yahav wrote to the companies.

Police summoned a municipal representative to the Zvulun precinct for questioning regarding the factory entrance obstructions. By about 6 p.m., the police reported that the city trucks began leaving the sites.

Accusing the government of “declaring war” on some 2 million Israelis, the mayor said that those at risk include not only residents of Haifa, but also of the Carmel coastal communities, the five bayside suburbs, and Tivon, Acre, Hadera, Caesarea, Zichron Ya’acov, and Binyamina.

“This is just the beginning,” Yahav continued. “I can only say that these steps will be dramatic for the Israeli economy.”

The reports regarding the relationship between cancer incidence and air pollution surfaced after Prof. Itamar Grotto, director of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services, recently sent a letter to the appeals supervisor in the Interior Ministry’s National Planning Administration, in response to objections regarding the expansion of oil refineries in the area.

Grotto primarily based his letter on a 2013 article published in the American Journal of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, which examined prevalence of cancer in the Haifa area from 1998 through 2007.

Citing the article, he explained that over the 10-year period, about 780 of the 4,860 cancer cases found in the region likely resulted from air pollution. Of the 60 cancer cases that occurred in children from ages 0 to 14, about 30 were probably linked to air pollution, he wrote.

Grotto cited a second study reporting that although cancer incidence among children in Haifa was higher than the national average, the findings might not be statistically significant due to failure to adjust for socioeconomic and other variables,.

“Lung cancer and bladder cancer are causally related to air pollution; regarding the other types of cancers, so far there is no proven causal relationship to air pollution,” he said.

On Sunday, following Yahav’s actions, the Health Ministry responded that “the relationship between air pollution and morbidity is complex,” and referred to a number of reports on the matter, including the text cited by Grotto.

The combination of Haifa Bay air pollution data, scientific support from the World Health Organization, the high morbidity rate in the area and the established causal link between air pollution and morbidity is “sufficient for the Health Ministry to establish an unequivocal policy according to which we must do everything possible to reduce the air pollution in the Haifa Bay,” the ministry said.

However, in a joint statement, the Israel Medical Association, the Israeli Society of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology and the Israel Pediatric Association stressed that “there is no reason to panic” and that “there is no evidence of excess morbidity due to cancer in children in the Haifa region.”

Emphasizing that the recent media reports are “inconsistent” with medical literature and facts, the doctors said they “regret that the public outcry based on partial data caused unnecessary damage to tens of thousands of parents.”

In response to the initial reports on Wednesday, Environmental Protection Ministry professionals said they would be recommending that whoever is appointed minister in the next government declare the Haifa Bay area “an air pollution-stricken region.” Nonetheless, the ministry warned that “the report that was published on the subject is based on air pollution data from a decade ago.”

While acknowledging that air pollution remains problematic in the region, the Environment Ministry stressed that during the past six years, air pollution levels have decreased by 70 percent, due to increased industrial supervision and regulation.

The Haifa District Municipal Association for Environmental Protection agreed on Sunday that efforts implemented in recent years have significantly improved air quality, making the city’s situation comparable to that of other large municipalities in Israel or Europe.

While continuously monitoring the 22 most relevant pollutants to the region’s industry and transportation, the association members said they have identified improvement. For example, from 2000 through 2013, there was a 92% decrease in sulfur dioxide concentrations, the association said.

As far as nitrous oxides are concerned, the association’s data indicated a 71% decline between 2000 and 2013, as a result of vehicle emissions and industrial activity improvements.

During the same period, the presence of respirable particles – such as those generated by fuel combustion, refineries, industrial steam boilers, diesel engines, manufacturing powders, and fertilizers – decreased by about 87%, the association added.

From 2004 through 2013, the concentration of volatile organic compounds dropped by 88%, the data said.

Aiming to determine the extent of the link between air pollution and cancer in the Haifa Bay area, the association is sponsoring a comprehensive study on the subject, led by the University of Haifa. Launched in March, the five-year study includes 20 research teams from nine institutions in Israel and abroad, involving biological monitoring and accounting for population differences and geographical patterns.

Yahav demanded immediate answers. While some media reports discuss an improvement in the bay’s air quality, and even describe Haifa’s youth cancer rate as among the lowest of the country’s large cities, the 2013 report in the American Journal of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention shows “a real danger to the lives of our children,” he said.

“If the latest figures are correct, we demand an immediate halt to all operations of polluting industries in the Haifa-Krayot metropolitan region,” Yahav said. “If the data presented recently is incorrect, government representatives should come here without delay and present themselves and clarify why they spread anxiety among members of the public.”

MK Dov Henin (Hadash), who heads a Knesset subcommittee to investigate Haifa Bay environmental and planning issues, applauded Yahav’s decision to try to shut down the factories.

“It is important that municipalities exercise their power against polluting industries,” Henin said. “The local authorities, who were elected by the residents, must act with courage and not give in to pressure from captains of industry.”

Calling the data linking air pollution and cancer incidence “shocking,” David Castel, the president of the Haifa Chamber of Commerce, called for an immediate establishment of an investigative committee to clarify the inconsistencies between reports and ensure that public health is not being compromised.

At the same time, however, he stressed that preserving jobs remains “a common interest of the public, the municipality and the business sector.”

Until an investigation is conducted, the city should “avoid extreme measures that could cause significant and irreversible damage to businesses in the bay,” Castel said.

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) likewise proposed the establishment of a committee to investigate pollution and its link to morbidity among the area’s residents, as well as modes of tackling the issue. Tibi stressed the importance of evaluating areas outside the Haifa area that also suffer from industrial contamination, such as the Mash’had village north of Nazareth.

As long as questions remain unanswered, however, Yahav said he was declaring “game over.” He demanded that the government immediately uncover the “real data,” adding that the children of Haifa “will not be hostages.”

“Until we know for sure the real data from government officials, we will not allow the operation of fuels and chemicals in the Haifa Bay,” he said.
coverage in Haaretz

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Researchers to study link between disease and pollution in Haifa
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Improve Haifa’s air quality with thoughtful response based on scientific groundwork
Haaretz Editorial

Haifa mayor cancels closures for most-polluting factories
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