As more tar sweeps beaches, nature authority says sand will never be 100% clean

Environmental advocacy body Adam Teva V’Din calls on Environment Ministry to update public ‘in real time’ and ‘with maximum transparency’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Removing tar from an unspecified beach, February 28, 2021. (Elad Yaakov, Government Presss Office)
Removing tar from an unspecified beach, February 28, 2021. (Elad Yaakov, Government Presss Office)

Tar continued to sweep onto several Israeli beaches on Sunday, as cleanup operations continued following a marine oil spill some 10 days ago, the Environmental Protection Ministry reported.

Affected beaches included Israel’s northernmost beach at Rosh Hanikra, Bustan HaGalil and Haifa’s oil port, and Tel Baruch near Tel Aviv.

The spill, the cause of which is still being investigated, has contaminated 160 kilometers (99 miles) of Israel’s coastline and also spread to Lebanese beaches over the weekend.

It was not clear where the continued tar pollution was coming from; Greenpeace published satellite images Sunday showing there were numerous oil slicks out at sea in the days before a storm began washing tons of tar onto 160 kilometers (99 miles) of Israel’s coastline earlier in the month.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority said Sunday that there was still much work to be done to clean tiny balls of tar off the sand along beaches within its jurisdiction, while the hardest work was removing contamination from the rocks.

In a statement, it said that after examining the results of the cleanup operation to date, surveying accepted cleanup methods used around the world and carrying out an initial review of literature on the matter, the INPA concluded that it would not be possible to completely rid the sand of tar. “Tiny particles will remain,” it said.

For this reason, cleaning could stop once most of the tarballs are smaller than a one shekel coin (1.7 centimeters in diameter, or 0.7 of an inch).

Regarding rocky areas, where most of a beach’s marine wildlife is concentrated, the organization said that at this stage, hand cleaning should continue and no tools should be used for fear of creating more damage. Cleaning with tools would be reserved for specially trained teams, possibly once the tar had hardened and become easier to extract.

Earlier Sunday, the Environmental Protection Ministry announced that it had ruled out one tanker that had been under suspicion.

Echoing the Health Ministry’s “Traffic Light Plan,” which divides Israel by incidence of COVID-19, the Environment Ministry has adopted a traffic plan for beaches. It divides the coastline into six possible states, ranging from “very light” contamination to “medium to severe” and “no information.”

Among the worst affected beaches as of Sunday are the Shikmona Beach in Haifa and Rosh Hanikra on the Lebanese border. Others include Ga’ash north of Herzliya, Ma’agan Michael, Ma’ayan Zvi, the stretch between Habonim beach and Dor beach and the Galim Reserve.

Also on Sunday, the executive director of the environmental advocacy organization Adam Teva V’Din called on Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel and her ministry to convey information to the public about the disaster in “real time” and with “maximum transparency.”

Amit Bracha wrote to Gamliel that openness was essential given that Israel’s beaches are public property and a source of health and welfare for so many, and that so many members of the public are volunteering to help clean the contamination up.

He called on the ministry to publish the minutes of discussions in which decisions were taken on steps to deal with the incident, and to explain the basis for setting the response level to Tier 2.

A Tier 2 spill is one of the three levels of oil spills as categorized by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA). The level is determined by the type of response rather than the scope of the incident.

Amit Bracha, Executive Director, Adam Teva V’Din. (Courtesy)

Bracha set out the information that should be made public, including details about the quantity, composition and consequences of the contamination, the criteria being used to divide up the NIS 45 million ($13.6 million) budgeted by the government to deal with the spill, the plans for coping with a future incident of this kind, and the conclusions already being drawn.

He asked when the findings of an investigation into the state’s response to the incident would be concluded, “assuming that an investigation is planned.”

The government has not yet said anything about an official probe.

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