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Ashkelon residents blame noxious smell on cancer-causing benzene from oil depot

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

A Health Ministry epidemiologist says there is a “significant level of cancer” around the city of Ashkelon in southern Israel, which is home to a large oil storage compound, but that a connection between the two cannot yet be proven definitively.

Environmental epidemiologist Dr. Isabella Karakis gives her testimony during a hearing of the Knesset’s special committee on complaints from residents about noxious smells from the facility, which they attribute to the release of benzene from the site.

Karakis tells the committee that “there is no safe level for benzene,” a chemical compound that can enter the air from a variety of sources, among them plants that burn fossil fuels, gasoline service stations and vehicle exhausts. The Ashkelon oil storage facility is run by the state-owned Europe-Asia Pipeline Company.

“There is no safe limit because this is a cancer-causing material,” she says, “and any level that’s above zero is likely to be significant in terms of the population’s health.”

The Ministry of Environmental Protection does maintain an approved level of benzene pollution. According to Karakis, sensors around the facility show that emissions are consistently below the maximum level determined by the ministry.

Officials and residents of Ashkelon, and one representative from Eilat, where the EAPC maintains two oil storage depots, tell the committee that complaints about smells from the plants are made frequently.

Those from Ashkelon say that the odors are sometimes so bad that people feel “choked” and don’t want to leave their homes.

An EAPC spokeswoman claims that there have only been four incidents over the last three years and that the company does its best to minimize emissions.

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