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Environment Ministry reports reduced Lag B’Omer bonfire pollution

Authorities had asked public to not light customary fires due to health concerns; worst area was Jerusalem neighborhood with 7.1 times higher pollution than usual, ministry says

People dance near a big bonfire, during celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on May19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People dance near a big bonfire, during celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on May19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Environmental Protection Ministry said Thursday that it had recorded less air pollution than previous years during the Lag B’Omer holiday, as the celebration, which includes traditional bonfires, came to a close.

The ministry said in a statement that even though there were unfavorable conditions, including no wind and atmospheric conditions that caused air to stay in place for 24 hours, most of its pollution detection stations recorded reduced levels.

The ministry attributed the drop in pollution to its call, along with the Health Ministry and other authorities, for the public to not light bonfires and to find other ways to mark the day instead. The ministry did not offer evidence for the explanation.

“The result is noticeable this morning at about 150 monitoring stations of the national air monitoring system… that are scattered throughout the country,” the ministry said.

It said there was a noticeable reduction in the “pungent odor” caused by the bonfires that can linger for days after the holiday.

In most locations, pollution spiked overnight Wednesday, when the festival began, and reached a peak at around 5 a.m.

Studies have found a link between poor air quality caused by the fires and emergency room visits, the ministry said.

“One of the most prominent features of fires is a marked increase in the concentration of particles smaller than 2.5 microns that pass through the respiratory airways,” the ministry said.

The most polluted place in the country was Shmuel Hanavi, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem where pollution was around 7.1 times higher than on a clear day.

Next highest was Nir Yisrael, an agricultural community near Ashkelon in the south, and the third most polluted spot was Kiryat Ata in the north.

The pollution readings are affected by factors including the location of fires relative to monitoring stations and weather conditions, such as wind speed and direction, the ministry said.

The Jewish festival of Lag B’Omer marks the death of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. There is a tradition of lighting bonfires on the eve of the festival, which are then kept burning throughout the night.

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