Three years after the wall of an evaporation pond at a fertilizer factory in southern Israel collapsed, sending poisonous water rushing into the Ashalim stream and killing wildlife and vegetation, the government on Monday announced that the stream is now safe and will reopen to the public.
In a joint statement, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said that an extensive survey had been carried out by an international company and that over recent weeks, samples had been taken of soil and water. After consulting with the Health Ministry, the two bodies decided to reopen the area to hikers.
The collapse of the evaporation pond wall at the Rotem Amfert Negev plant on the Rotem plain — a center for phosphate mining in the Negev desert southwest of the Dead Sea — sent some 100,000 cubic meters (more than 35,000 tons) of acidic water and other pollutants rushing through the Ashalim stream.
At least eight ibexes — a third of those living in the area — and numerous foxes and birds were found dead in the two weeks following the spill, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry, with concern that toxic pools would kill more wildlife desperate to drink during the hot summer.
The Environmental Protection Ministry banned Rotem Amfert from using three evaporation ponds for gypsum flow that contained the highly acidic wastewater and ordered it to install additional sensors, conduct frequent monitoring tests, and meet certain other conditions. A month after the spill, the ministry launched a criminal investigation into company managers and the parent company, Israel Chemicals Ltd. But after filing a NIS 397 million ($112.5 million) civil class action lawsuit, the state later agreed to out-of-court mediation.
The Environmental Protection Ministry’s Green Police is still conducting a criminal investigation into what caused the wall collapse and whether environmental laws were violated at the plant.
Rotem Amfert is also the subject of the biggest environmental class action suit in Israeli history, which demands that it and Dead Sea Periclase Ltd pay NIS 1.4 billion ($400 million) in damages for polluting groundwater and a popular spring and stream at the Ein Bokek nature reserve near the Dead Sea.