The Haifa Court for Local Affairs ruled on Sunday that an ammonia tank that the city council has fought to remove over concerns that it threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the area must be emptied within 10 days.
The ruling was another victory for the city on the issue, after the court ordered the temporary closure of the ammonia storage tank last week.
The Haifa Group, a fertilizer producer that operates the tank, said in a statement following the ruling that “the company will respect the court’s decision.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how much ammonia the 12,000-ton-capacity tank currently contains.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav hailed the decision, calling it “an additional accomplishment in the year-long struggle, which we will not stop until the storage tank is removed from Haifa Bay.”
MK Yair Lapid, who heads the opposition Yesh Atid party, also praised the court’s ruling, saying in a statement that it was important “for the safety of the residents of Haifa and the area.”
It is time “to remove the the greatest bomb in the Middle East from Haifa Bay,” he added.
The Haifa municipality submitted its petition for the closure of the ammonium storage facility following the publication two weeks ago of a report it commissioned that found the port city’s ammonia operations pose a serious risk to the population.
The report was also been submitted to the High Court of Justice as part of a legal dispute between Haifa Group and the municipality.
If ruptured, the vast ammonia storage tank would suffocate 16,000 victims under a toxic cloud, the report said. The tank could “fall apart tomorrow morning,” the report’s author, chemistry professor Ehud Keinan, said at a press conference to release the report on January 31, held at the municipality.
“If the tank breaks apart we are talking about 16,000 fatalities,” Keinan warned.
But an even worse danger, the report said, is posed by a delivery ship carrying over 16,000 tons of ammonia that arrives at the Haifa container once a month. If its cargo were released to the air, it could kill as many as 600,000 in the bay area, according to the report.
Last year, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to target Haifa’s ammonia facilities with rockets in the next conflict with Israel.
He quoted an unnamed Israeli official saying that a strike on the northern city’s ammonia storage tanks would cause tens of thousands of fatalities.
Hours after Nasrallah issued the explicit threat to strike Haifa, then-environmental protection minister Avi Gabbai said he had ordered that the ammonia storage facility be moved to the Negev desert. The order was never implemented.
Keinan wrote the report along with 10 other experts. Its findings were presented to the Haifa municipality several months ago, but were only made public last month.