Factories with hazardous materials not prepared for earthquakes, ministry warns

50 out of 149 plants deemed at risk have not completed readiness review, says Environmental Protection Ministry, which has just one inspector assigned to issue

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

Illustrative: A blaze and toxic smoke clouds at the Bazan Group's Haifa oil refinery on December 25, 2016. (Israel Police)
Illustrative: A blaze and toxic smoke clouds at the Bazan Group's Haifa oil refinery on December 25, 2016. (Israel Police)

Factories using dangerous materials are not ready to withstand earthquakes, the Environmental Protection Ministry warned Monday.

In a statement, the ministry said there was just one inspector tasked with checking that such factories were implementing special earthquake readiness programs.

Requests made to bodies such as the Finance Ministry, the National Emergency Authority, and the Inter-ministerial Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness for funds to employ more inspectors did not yield results, the statement added.

The manpower shortfall has been featured in state comptroller reports, it said.

A government decision approved in 2010 instructed ministries and other relevant bodies to get ready for earthquakes, giving the Environmental Protection Ministry the responsibility to develop instructions for factories with dangerous materials and carrying out inspections and enforcement.

Following this, the ministry mapped the factories that are at an increased risk, ordering 149 of them to examine their resilience in the event of an earthquake.

A drone flying over the Nesher cement factory near Ramle, Israel (Airwayz Drones Ltd). Because of its geological structure, Ramle, in central Israel, is sensitive to earthquakes.

Out of these, 99 had completed the process and taken whatever steps they deemed necessary, to the ministry’s satisfaction, while a further 50 were at different stages of the process, the statement said.

Conditions varied between different plants, among them local geology, the kinds of buildings on site, the nature of the hazardous materials stored, and the immediate proximity to residential neighborhoods.

“Due to the location of the State of Israel along the Syrian African Rift, the entire territory of the country can be defined as a seismogenic zone that may be damaged in the event of an earthquake,” the ministry warned.

According to Ron Aviv, an earthquake studies lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, areas at particular risk of earthquakes include the Haifa Bay, the central city of Ramle, and the area close to the Syrian African Rift that runs down Israel’s eastern flank.

Haifa Bay — sensitive to seismic activity because of a fault that runs along the foothills of the Carmel — is home to petrochemical and other heavy industries.

In December 2016, a massive fire at the Bazan Group oil refining and petrochemicals company sent toxic black clouds over the Haifa Bay for several hours and took more than a day to extinguish.

Ramle, at risk because of specific geological conditions, is where the Nesher cement factory operates.

The Ramat Hovav industrial site in the Negev Desert in southern Israel is located just 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Dead Sea, which lies right above the Syrian African tectonic fault.

Pollution around Ramat Hovav, December 28, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/FLASH90/File)

The site hosts several chemical plants and deals with much of the country’s hazardous waste.

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