report looks at emissions as well as environmental accidents and violations of environmental law

Dead Sea Works factory owned by Israel Chemicals, in 2018.
Dead Sea Works factory owned by Israel Chemicals, in 2018.Credit: Haim Targan

Zafrir Rinat 09.07.2020

The oil refineries in Haifa and Ashdod and the Israel Chemicals plants in Mishor Rotem and Dead Sea have topped the list of Israel’s largest industrial polluters, according to the index of polluting firms for 2018, released by the Environmental Protection Ministry on Thursday.

These firms have regularly been among the top polluters in recent years. The environmental impact index includes industrial companies that own factories, as well as other facilities, such as sewage purification and industrial recycling plants, that could have a negative environmental impact.

The report catalogs the emissions caused by the companies’ operations as well as other aspects, including violations of environmental law or accidents that caused environmental damage, and these elements are heavily weighted.

The number one industrial polluter in Israel, according to the index, is Rotem Amfert, which is owned by Israel Chemicals and mines and processes phosphates in the Negev. The Environmental Protection Ministry said that the Rotem Amfert plant violated air quality requirements, had localized hazardous materials incidents, and generally high polluting emissions.

A gazelle that died following pollution by Rotem Amfert at the Ashelim stream, 2017.
A gazelle that died following pollution by Rotem Amfert at the Ashelim stream, 2017.Credit: Mark Katz / Nature and Parks Authority

The oil refineries in Ashdod, owned, by Paz, and the refineries in Haifa, owned by the Bazan Group, were ranked in second and third places in the index respectively. The ministry said that the Ashdod refinery had high air pollution emissions and faulty maintenance concerning hazardous materials. In Haifa, the plant was convicted for the criminal pollution of local streams. The Haifa plant was also warned that it had violated requirements to reduce air pollution. In 2018, the year the report covers, the ministry documented a number of environmental violations including improper treatment of sewage and hazardous materials.

Similar problems were found at the Carmel Olefins plant, owned by Bazan. The company uses products from the oil refineries for its production, however, it showed improvement from the previous year.

The fifth-ranked site in the index was Dead Sea Works, owned by Israel Chemicals. In the previous year, they ranked as the 12th worst industrial polluter. The ministry cited violations concerning maintenance, operations and infrastructure for hazardous materials.

The Haifa industrial zone, June 2019.
The Haifa industrial zone, June 2019.Credit: Rami Shllush

The environmental impact index report is intended to help investors in determining the financial risk related to the industrial companies’ operations. In addition, the ministry says the report is meant to aid investors who choose to avoid investing in companies with negative environmental impact for ethical reasons. Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said the ministry will take harsh action against those endangering public health and the environment after the report was released.

The delayed publication of the report for 2018 means that the data is not up to date. Some companies have since made changes in their operations. For example, the Tamar natural gas drilling platform is ranked eighth for environmental impact. The ministry said that a year later, in 2019, the environmental operations of the platform had improved.

Israel Chemicals said the report includes data from the years 2016 to 2018, so they are no longer valid today. “All the facilities of Israel Chemicals are improving significantly as a result of the huge investments the company has carried out in coordination with the Environmental Protection Ministry with the goal of bringing about an improvement in our environmental impact.”

The Bazan Group said it has consistently reduced its environmental impact over the past decade by dozens of percentage points as a result of “its responsible operating policy.” The company’s relative share of the environmental impact in the Haifa Bay region is very low, only about 11 percent to 13 percent, based on the ministry’s most recent data, said Bazan.