Cleanup plan has cut Haifa Bay pollution by half, claims Environmental Ministry

Elkin ‘proud of the reductions’ but watchdog group dismisses report showing 56% drop in organic pollutants as ‘questionable’ and ‘saturated with manipulated information’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

View of Haifa's oil refineries and other industrial areas, on May 5, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90/File)
View of Haifa's oil refineries and other industrial areas, on May 5, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90/File)

A national plan to reduce pollution from the extensive industrial zones in the Haifa Bay area has seen many dangerous pollutants slashed by more than half, according to a Environment Protection Ministry report released Monday.

But a local watchdog group dismissed the findings, saying the report, which reviewed implementation of a plan to improve air quality around the bay during the period 2015-2018, is “saturated with manipulated information.”

According to the report, there was a 56% drop during that period in the number of emissions of volatile organic pollutants, including many carcinogens, in Haifa Bay compared to 2014 levels.

In 2018, the nitrogen oxides emissions were down 26%, particle emissions were down 13%, and sulfur oxides emissions were down 10% the report found.

Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin welcomed the figures, saying, “We are proud of the reductions achieved in industry vis-à-vis polluting plants and transportation, and the results will continue to improve for the health of the residents of the region.”

Despite the positive trends, the report conceded that the targets for reducing fine particle air pollution and sulfur dioxide pollution were not reached because of a delay in connecting some industrial plants to natural gas pipelines.

As part of the plan, more stringent demands were made on 26 factories that have permits to emit volatile organic pollutants. The ministry also tightened requirements for 24 other factories not included in the national plan.

During the period covered by the report, enforcement was increased and 42 warnings were issued to 17 factories, with 37 hearings held for 16 factories, the ministry said. Another 49 factories adopted ministry policies to reduce pollutant emissions either by using alternative chemicals or installing better protection systems.

In addition, Israel’s first clean air zone was established in Haifa’s lower city — the area at the foot of the Carmel mountain — limiting entry of diesel vehicles into residential areas. The first year it was enforced there was a 20% drop in the volume of soot in the lower city area, the report found.

The volunteer Haifa Environmental Research Center rejected the findings in a post to its Facebook page.

“In the report we find questionable analysis of data, a lack of transparency as a policy, and declarations that don’t line up with the review of implementation of the national plan in Haifa.

“It is disturbing and very worrying. The report, which is saturated with manipulated information, proves the dangerous processes promoted within the ministry and is a red light regarding the conduct and interests in the ministry’s corridors,” the statement read.

The organization did not provide any further information on its claim.

Haifa Bay is a center of industry for the country and home to Israel’s largest port as well as oil refineries and other factories. Environmentalists have long complained that pollutants from industrial areas are impacting the health of local residents in Israel’s third largest city.

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