Bazan Group again fined for violating pollution permit in Haifa

Environmental Protection Ministry slaps NIS 895,000 fine on conglomerate, says Carmel Olefins factory didn’t heed rules on dealing with highly toxic naphtha leak that caused a fire

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

View of chimneys from a refinery in Haifa Bay. (Shay Levy/Flash90)
View of chimneys from a refinery in Haifa Bay. (Shay Levy/Flash90)

The Bazan Group oil refining and petrochemicals conglomerate has again been fined for violating its pollution permit, this time for NIS 895,000 ($275,000).

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, workers at the Carmel Olefins company, headquartered in Haifa, which manufactures polypropylene and polyethylene for the plastics industry, failed to follow the rules when they dealt with a leak of highly toxic, cancer-causing naphtha, a flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture used to dilute heavy crude oil.

Their actions, according to the ministry, caused the material to explode and cause a fire within the plant. There were no reports of any injuries. The incident at the factory, in the northern Israeli Haifa Bay industrial area, took place in May 2018.

An Environment Ministry statement published Sunday said that the leak “began as a result of a pump failure and the discharge [of the naphtha] into a pit in the factory area. As a result of the incident, an aerosol cloud formed in the area of the pump, which, later, and following the way the plant [workers] acted, exploded and caused a fire.”

Factory staff failed to follow instructions that say that in the event of such a leak, anything that could ignite a fire should be kept away, and that the material should be absorbed by a material such as sand.

Invited to a ministry hearing on the incident, workers provided different versions of what had happened, the statement said.

Last year, the Haifa Magistrate’s Court slapped an NIS 1.2 million ($335,000) fine on the Bazan Group for negligence, pollution and violation of permits in connection with a massive fire that sent toxic black clouds floating over the Haifa Bay for several hours in late December 2016.

View of a fire that broke out at an oil refinery complex in Haifa, northern Israel, December 25, 2016. (Meir Vaaknin/Flash90)

It was that fire, also at the Carmel Olefins company, that prompted Yael Cohen-Paran, chairperson of the Green Movement and a former Zionist Union Knesset lawmaker, to petition the courts to force the Environment Ministry to publish all details of communication between it and Carmel Olefins relating to the formulation of the conditions of its pollution permit.

To date, the ministry has only published the final drafts of such permits for public consultation.

As a result of Paran’s campaign and a High Court ruling earlier this month, the ministry appears likely to have to publish all correspondence relating to all pollution permits from the time a factory requests one until the conditions are finally agreed upon.

The ministry appealed to the High Court not to have to disclose all these details after a district court sided with Paran, but it withdrew its appeal on the High Court’s advice. The High Court said that the 2008 Clean Air Act clearly obliged the ministry to share all such details with the public.

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