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Negev chemical plant’s storage pools at immediate risk of collapse, locals warn

Recent examination said to show the walls were not built according to standards; experts say the toxic waste is cancerous, even on contact

View of a pool of toxic sludge near the Zin phosphate mining plant in the Negev Desert, August 11, 2021. (Screenshot/Kan public broadcaster)
View of a pool of toxic sludge near the Zin phosphate mining plant in the Negev Desert, August 11, 2021. (Screenshot/Kan public broadcaster)

Pools of toxic sludge are at risk of collapsing and polluting nature reserves in southern Israel, experts and residents have warned.

The ICL Group storage pools for the nearby Zin phosphate mining plant in the Arava Valley underwent a recent examination by the company, the results of which were examined by citizens of nearby towns and experts, the Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday.

The pools have a number of issues that could spell collapse at any given moment, they warned. The walls are steeper than permitted, and were built using unregulated byproducts from the factory, the report said.

The annual probability of failure is at 50 percent, residents said, based on the recent examination of the site.

“When I read the report I couldn’t sleep at night,” Dorit Evyatar from the nearby town of Hazeva told the network. She warned that those hiking in the nearby stream don’t know that at any moment they could be swept away by a “flood of very, very dangerous water.”

In June 2017, environmental damage was caused when the wall of a storage pool partially collapsed, sending 100,000 cubic meters of acidic phospho-gypsum liquid into the nearby Ashalim stream, a dry riverbed leading from the Rotem industrial zone, via a nature preserve, to the Dead Sea.

The toxic wastewater destroyed everything in its path as it wound its way down through the desert, poisoning a third of the local ibexes as well as other animals and plants.

A dead ibex found near the Ashalim stream after a massive acid waste spill on June 30, 2017. (Mark Katz/Nature and Parks Authority)

In a recent study by the Weizmann Institute of Science and Israel’s Water Authority, picked up by the Haaretz daily, the water was said to be contaminated with metals that can cause cancer, even on contact.

Geologist Amotz Agnon of the Hebrew University warned the walls could collapse if a strong earthquake strikes the area. Minor earthquakes frequently shake the Negev desert. In April 2020 an earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter Scale was recorded.

The Zin phosphate mining plant was recently closed by ICL, but the at-risk pools remain. The network said it was unclear who was supervising the site, if anyone.

View of the entrance to the Zin Factory in Nahal Zin, southern Israel on October 14, 2017. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

The company in response claimed the walls were structurally sound, and were built according to standards. But the Environmental Protection Ministry said it would be issuing updated instructions for the plant in the coming days, which would include a requirement to fix up the pools, to ensure its stability, the report said.

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