Haifa court temporarily shuts down city-threatening ammonia tank

Following petition by municipality over safety concerns, judge orders closure of 12,000-ton-capacity vat pending further review

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

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

The Haifa Municipal Court on Wednesday ordered the temporary closure of an ammonia storage tank that the city council wants removed over concerns that it threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the area.

In response to a petition filed by the municipality, Judge Sigalit Gets-Ofir ordered the tank shut down until a full discussion on the matter is held on Thursday morning.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much ammonia the 12,000-ton-capacity tank currently contains and exactly what measures need to be taken as a result of the ruling.

“This is a brave and unprecedented step by the court,” the Haifa municipality said in a statement. “This is another stage in the long and persistent campaign to remove the ammonia tank from Haifa Bay and it is being done in parallel to another legal process in the High Court. We will continue to act with determination and without compromise until the tank is cleared out of the bay.”

Haifa's ammonia tank (screen capture/Channel 2)
Haifa’s ammonia tank (screen capture/Channel 2)

The petition was based on a report commissioned by the municipality and published just over a week ago that found the port city’s ammonia operations pose a serious risk to the population.

The report has also been submitted to the High Court of Justice as part of a legal dispute between Haifa Group, a fertilizer producer that operates the tank, and the Haifa municipality.

If ruptured, the vast ammonia storage tank would suffocate 16,000 victims under a toxic cloud, the report said. The tank could “fall apart tomorrow morning,” the report’s author, chemistry professor Ehud Keinan, said at a press conference to release the report on January 31, held at the municipality.

“If the tank breaks apart we are talking about 16,000 fatalities,” Keinan warned.

But an even worse danger, the report said, is posed by a delivery ship carrying over 16,000 tons of ammonia that arrives at the Haifa container once a month. If its cargo were released to the air, it could kill as many as 600,000 in the bay area, according to the report.

Last year, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to target Haifa’s ammonia facilities with rockets in the next conflict with Israel.

He quoted an unnamed Israeli official saying that a strike on the northern city’s ammonia storage tanks would cause tens of thousands of fatalities.

Hours after Nasrallah issued the explicit threat to strike Haifa, then-environmental protection minister Avi Gabbai said he had ordered that the ammonia storage facility be moved to the Negev desert. The order was never implemented.

Keinan wrote the report along with 10 other experts. Its findings were presented to the Haifa municipality several months ago, but were only made public last month.

Most Popular
read more: