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Environment Ministry greenlights pollution rehab project at Acre Bay site

Tidhar-Harel partnership buys former industrial site known for its high levels of mercury in fish; plans seek to restore soil, groundwater in multi-year project

Aerial view of the ruins of the now defunct Electrochemical Industries Company near the northern city of Acre. (Hillel Tatro/Channel 13 Screenshot)
Aerial view of the ruins of the now defunct Electrochemical Industries Company near the northern city of Acre. (Hillel Tatro/Channel 13 Screenshot)

A soil and groundwater restoration project at a former industrial site at Acre Bay is underway after the Environmental Protection Ministry approved new plans on Tuesday.

The 250-dunam (60-acre) area near the northern coastal city was once owned by the former Electrochemical Industries Company and is one of Israel’s most polluted sites.

The Electrochemical Industries Company, which opened in 1956, produced chlorine and later polyvinyl chloride (PVC). During its first 20 years, the plant dumped its toxic waste at sea before it was instructed to treat its wastewater.

The company shuttered in 2003, the plant was dismantled and the area was purchased by energy company Delek Yam-Maagan, but plans for the site did not include any land or groundwater rehabilitation.

Now that the site has been purchased by the Tidhar-Harel real estate partnership, plans for rehabilitating the area and reversing the environmental damage are underway. Since the purchase last year, the ministry said, the pollution investigation process was accelerated and pilot tests for rehabilitation methods were kickstarted.

As part of the groundwater treatment, a partition wall will be erected between the contaminated area and the beach, and the groundwater will be pumped and treated for years until it is clean. This treatment is expected to significantly reduce the leakage of contaminated groundwater into the sea, according to the ministry.

Fish sold in the market in the old city of Acre in northern Israel on March 23, 2019. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

Tidhar-Harel plans to open a logistics park in the area and maintain the northern area of the site for residential use. The beach near the former plant is slated to be restored and reopened to the public.

Work on the site is slated to start in the coming months and will include construction of a number of water and soil treatment facilities at Acre Bay, such as a soil washing facility, a thermal facility and a biological treatment facility. Completing the project is expected to take several years.

The area surrounding the former plant has long been a concern for environmentalists and public health officials as a source of severe contamination and rising mercury levels in certain species of edible fish. Annual surveys by the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute recorded a trend of rising mercury in fish, to the extent that by 2012, nearly a fifth of all specimens analyzed contained mercury levels exceeding safe consumption guidelines. Officials have pointed specifically to fish from Acre Bay as being a major contributor to the problem.

According to the Barcelona Convention’s Action Plan for the Mediterranean, in a 2001 survey, the site was considered one of Israel’s seven pollution hotspots, based on emissions of pollutants into the Mediterranean sea. While Israel has already taken care of the other six, the Acre Bay area is the last to be treated.

Sue Surkes contributed to this report. 

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