After Texas blast, ministers fear disaster at Haifa chemical plant
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After Texas blast, ministers fear disaster at Haifa chemical plant

Explosion at fertilizer plant near Waco should serve as warning about ammonia tank in bay city, Amir Peretz says

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Haifa's industrial zone. The ammonia tank is visible on the jetty jutting into the sea at the right. (Shay Levy/Flash90)
Haifa's industrial zone. The ammonia tank is visible on the jetty jutting into the sea at the right. (Shay Levy/Flash90)

A massive ammonia tank in Haifa must be moved away from the densely populated area, ministers said Thursday, saying an industrial explosion Wednesday in Texas that killed as many as 15 and injured more than 160 people should act as a wake-up call for Israel.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and Home
Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan expressed their concern over a similar disaster taking place in Israel’s third-largest city, either by accident or during an armed conflict.

The tank in Haifa contains some 12,000 tons of ammonia, one of the most hazardous gases in the world. In the past, the Hezbollah terror group has tried to target it with rockets fired from Lebanon.

“Dangerous materials near the population are a ticking time bomb,” said Erdan, who served as environmental protection minister until March. “It’s the government’s responsibility to invest time, planning and money to hasten the separation between population centers and dangerous materials,” he said, calling for the factory to be moved south.

The ammonia tank near Haifa photo credit: screen capture/Channel 2)
The ammonia tank near Haifa photo credit: screen capture/Channel 2)

During Erdan’s term as environmental protection minister he tried to have the chemical plant, which is owned by fertilizer maker Haifa Chemicals, transferred to the sparsely populated Negev desert, but the plan was never finalized.

“The Environmental Protection Ministry already told Haifa Chemicals that the plant’s activity must end by 2017,” Peretz said in a statement.

In July 2011, the ministry forced the plant to shut down temporarily after it failed to move hazardous materials off the site as per safety guidelines.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office will hold a session on the matter chaired by National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror and attended by representatives of Erdan and Peretz’s offices, as well as someone from the Economic and Trade Ministry, which is responsible for allocating land in the Negev for the new plant.

“Every moment in which there are large amounts of ammonia stored next to the public is a dangerous moment,” Peretz stated.

The explosion in Texas should be taken as a warning before disaster strikes in Haifa, he said. “There is no reason to allow this dangerous situation to continue.”

The Texas explosion — in a fertilizer plant in downtown West, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Dallas — shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and could be heard dozens of miles away. It sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers, shrapnel and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.

Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said early Thursday morning that between five and 15 people were killed in the blast, but stressed that it was an early estimate as search and rescue operations remain under way. There was no indication the blast was anything other than an industrial accident, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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