Emissions in Israel increased by 14 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year and stem partly from the increased production capacity of several factoriesSend in e-mailSend in e-mail

The Rotem Amfert factory in the Negev.
The Rotem Amfert factory in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Zafrir Rinat Aug. 30, 2021

Around two-thirds of the carcinogenic or suspected carcinogenic emissions in Israel in 2020 came from the illegal burning of waste, mainly household waste, an annual report by 572 industrial factories shows.  

In addition, emissions of carcinogens or suspected carcinogens from factories in Israel increased by 14 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year.

This increase represents a change in a multiyear trend, and it stems partly from the increased production capacity of several factories, chief among them the Rotem Amfert plant in the Negev, which produces fertilizers, as well as various asphalt plants.

These statistics emerge from the annual reporting of polluting emissions given by factories to the Environmental Protection Ministry. This reporting has been required by law since 2012.

The Environment Ministry also made a calculation of all the polluting emissions from various sources. All told, since 2012 there has been a drop of 45 percent in the quantity of carcinogens or suspected carcinogens emitted, as means to reduce or neutralize these pollutants have been increasingly employed.

According to the new report, the burning of waste is one of the most significant sources of air pollution in Israel. This includes the illegal burning of household waste, but also the burning of agricultural waste that includes a large quantity of plastic. In addition to the high percentage of carcinogenic emissions, the incineration is the source of a fifth of particulate emissions that are the most significant factor in the rise of morbidity and mortality from illnesses in the respiratory system and blood vessels.

“Only this year we had reports of 500 such fires,” in the Negev, said Baruch Weber, director of the Environment Ministry’s southern district. Many such burnings take place near Arab communities. “We see that among the Arab public, the issue that most concerns them is crime and violence, and after that, it’s waste,” said Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg.

The Haifa industrial park, in 2019.
The Haifa industrial park, in 2019.Credit: rami shllush

At Rotem Amfert there emerged a previously unknown source of benzene emissions, which are carcinogenic. There is meant to be an installation built in that factory to treat the carcinogenic materials, and because its construction has been delayed, the ministry last week fined the company 730,000 shekels (nearly $226,000).

The data also shows that there had been almost no change in greenhouse has emissions in Israel, which had dropped over the previous six years by around 3 percent. The two main sources of these emissions are electricity production and transportation, which together produce close to two-thirds of emissions.

The most positive change seen in the report is the drop of 50 percent in the use of coal over the past decade, which prevented an increase in greenhouse gas emissions even though electricity production has increased. Coal was replaced by natural gas, which emits fewer greenhouse gases, and the transition to natural gas also brought about a 91 percent drop in emissions from mazut fuel oil, which is considered particularly polluting.

Another significant source of pollution is the home use of sprays, adhesives and paints. According to the Environment Ministry, about 42 percent of the emissions of a group of pollutants called non-methane volatile substances are from such use. These substances are toxic and can be carcinogenic.

“This is an area that falls between the ministries and so far, we have not been able to get the funding and resources to deal with the issue,” said Shuli Nazar, senior deputy director general for industry at the ministry. “One of the main steps required is to bring about a change in the inputs of these products so they contain fewer dangerous substances.”

Another significant source of air pollution is vessels in the ports of Ashdod and Haifa, which last year emitted around one-fifth of all sulfur oxides, which are also a significant cause of health damage. But in general, there has been a 45 percent to 95 percent decrease in polluting emissions (depending on the type) in Haifa Bay since reporting under the emissions reporting law began.

Several particularly polluting factories have been closed, there has been a transition to natural gas and the stricter demands of the Environment Ministry led to the installation of emissions-reduction equipment.