Six of the biggest polluters belong to ICL Group (Israel Chemicals) and the Bazan Group, which are controlled by Idan Ofer

The Haifa oil refineries in April.
The Haifa oil refineries in April.Credit: Rami Shllush

Zafrir Rinat Oct. 20, 2021

The plants of ICL Group (Israel Chemicals) and the Bazan Group (formerly Haifa Oil Refineries) – controlled by Idan Ofer – top the list of Israel’s worst industrial polluters in 2019; six of them were among the top 10 polluters. Topping the list was Bazan’s oil refineries in Haifa, followed by ICL’s Rotem Amfert phosphates plant, in the Negev.

This is the ninth edition of the Environmental Impact Index, published each year by the Environmental Protection Ministry to provide information on the environmental performance and risks of public and governmental companies.

Like its predecessors, the index issued Wednesday is based on a weighting of several aspects of environmental impact, including not only regular pollutant emissions and operational failures but also compliance with directives and regulations as well as initiatives taken to improve environmental performance. “It’s meant to reflect trends, not focus on specific incidents,” said Galit Cohen, ministry director general.

The plants leading the list received high negative scores mainly for noncompliance with environmental laws and regulations. This was particularly noticeable for the three facilities with the greatest environmental impact – the Haifa oil refineries, Rotem Amfert and the Dan Region Wastewater Treatment Plant, or Shafdan, which is operated by the Dan Regional Association for Environmental Infrastructure, or Igudan.

The index notes that the managers of the Haifa oil refineries were given a hearing for excessive emissions of air pollution. Many other violations were also documented, including for the treatment of waste and hazardous materials. The oil refineries were also involved in a fire and a failure to monitor emissions of benzene, a carcinogen.

Rotem Amfert ranked in second place, mainly for operations violations and the late submission of reports and documents, as well as for the plant’s high emissions during normal operations.

Shafdan is Israel’s largest wastewater treatment plant, providing purified effluent for agricultural irrigation in the Negev. Two years ago the plants stopped discharging into the Mediterranean Sea sewage sludge, a byproduct of the treatment process that was identified as the greatest contributor to pollution of the sea. Today, this sludge is turned into fertilizer for crops. Shafdan received its high negative score for carrying out work without a permit and operating deficient smokestacks. Additional violations included a leak of hazardous materials and creating an odor nuisance.

Also in the top 10 were factories of the Bazan-owned Carmel Olefin and Gadiv Petrochemical Industries, which use products from the Haifa oil refineries in their manufacturing. Documented violations at these plants included exceeding air pollution emission limits.

ICL Group was represented on the list by Dead Sea Works and by Dead Sea Magnesium, in addition to Rotem Amfert. Both of the Dead Sea installations violated air emission standards and improper handling of hazardous materials.

In fourth place was the oil refineries in Ashdod, owned by Paz – an improvement from 2018, when it was the second-worst industrial polluter in Israel – earning first place on the index’s list of the “10 most improved companies.”

The fact that the list of the worst polluters changes little from year to year suggests that the index and the Environmental Protection Ministry’s enforcement have no concrete effect. Cohen referred to this, saying: “The index is meant mainly to reflect environmental risk … oil refineries are highly polluting and high-risk. They have room for improvement, particularly in compliance with the law, but even if they do this they will remain high-risk.”

In a written response, the Bazan Group said: “Despite the unreliability of the index and the misleading information provided to investors, the Bazan Group considers investing in the environment to be of strategic importance, as can also be learned from the Environmental Protection Ministry’s official figures. In 2018-2019 the group reduced emissions by dozens of percentage points, including a 75 percent reduction in emissions of benzene. This adds to the … trend from 2009-19, during which the [emissions of] major air pollutants declined by 65-95 percent.”

The Chemical, Pharmaceutical, and Environmental Industries Association in the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel also issued a statement, saying: “Here is a partial list of organizations that have a significant environmental impact and are not included in the ministry’s survey: public transportation companies, waste treatment plants, ports and military bases. This is while manufacturing has reduced the volume of emissions by more than 90 percent in the past decade. Furthermore, the index is calculated in a manner that distorts the data and in effect deals with misleading investors and not with proper information transparency.”

ICL and Igudan did not respond to requests for comment before the print deadline.