Haifa air pollution tied to high cancer rates: Health Ministry

Mayor of port city blames government inaction after report finds disease 16% more prevalent than in rest of country

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Haifa's industrial area. (Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)
Haifa's industrial area. (Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav railed against the Health Ministry Tuesday for turning a blind eye to the municipality’s struggle with air pollution, after a Channel 2 news report linked the city’s smog to higher cancer rates.

Prof. Itamar Grotto, head of public health services in the Ministry of Health, found that half of the cases of cancer in Haifa children were due to the city’s air pollution.

Grotto’s study also found that from 1997-2008 in the Haifa metropolitan area in general the rates of cancer were 16 percent higher than in the rest of the country in 16 of the 18 types of cancer checked. Certain types of cancer — lung cancer, for instance — were even more prevalent, 29% more in Haifa than in the rest of the country.

Haifa is home to Israel’s largest seaport and a number of petrochemical factories.

Haifa mayor Yona Yahav, July 2009 (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash 90)
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav (file photo: Shay Levy/Flash 90)

Yahav lambasted the ministry for releasing those statistics directly to the media and, in general, for what he called its indifference to the city’s problem.

“The Health Ministry, which basically does not exist on this front, together with the health minister who is never seen, decided to become newspaper writers and to release statistics and opinion pieces, in place of moving their butts from the fluorescent lights in their offices to the field and doing work,” Yahav told Channel 2.

Since the previous government dissolved in December, and Yael German resigned from her position as health minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has served as the interim health minister.

“It is already years that the Haifa municipality has been fighting alone on the air pollution front,” Yahav said.

The Haifa municipality rejects claims that the air pollution is the city’s own fault.

“We hope that if — heaven forbid — there were a security incident on the southern border, the city of Beersheba would demand a solution from the IDF and not the other way around,” city officials said. “We hope that the next time there is a robbery on the streets of Tel Aviv, the municipality of Tel Aviv will demand a solution from the police and not the other way around.”

MK Dov Khenin of the Joint (Arab) List who was the head of the deputy committee that dealt with the environment and planning of the Haifa bay, said Tuesday, “These findings confirm our worst fears. A clear and drastic change is needed in the management of industry and the handling of chemicals that are dangerous to the bay.”

The Health Ministry said that the figures on the city’s cancer rates were never hidden and were always available through the Central Bureau of Statistics and in professional journals.

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