Zafrir Rinat in Haaretz, 12/31/2003
Haaretz December 30, 2003
Green group points to plethora of environmental hazards countrywide
By Zafrir Rinat
Adam Teva V'Din report says citizens rights are being trampled by well-connected entrepreneur
Heaps of used hypodermic needles, contaminated bandages and discarded drug containers litter an open plot in Umm Batin that most of the Bedouin village's children use as a playground. Umm Batin, located in the Negev, is an unrecognized village and, therefore, there is no one to deal with the medical waste from a nearby clinic that has accumulated in the area. The story of Umm Batin is just one example of the country's numerous environmental hazards that are described in a first-of-its-kind document, "Environmental Poverty Report 2003," published by Adam Teva V'Din, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED).
The report, presented yesterday to President Moshe Katsav, attempts to assess the magnitude of the environmental hazards affecting residents in various areas across the entire country. According to sources at the IUED, the document proves that in the Israel of 2003, the average citizen stands helpless in the face of entrepreneurs who damage land reserves and contaminate the environment. The ties between wealth and government, the IUED sources say, are leaving citizens' rights trampled in their wake.
The report points to several incidents over the past year of severe air pollution - mostly in the Haifa bay area - during which residents were advised by the Environment Ministry not to leave their homes. The document notes, however, that the public was never informed as to what substances it was exposed, nor were air samples taken at the time of the incidents.
In the Ramat Hovav industrial zone in the Negev, the IUED report notes, large chemical plants such as Makhteshim Chemical Works and Bromine Compounds continue to deviate significantly from air pollution standards. According to the report, the plants emit carcinogenic materials in concentrations thousands of times higher than the law permits.
Regarding water pollution, the report outlines previously published data on the extent of contamination of the coastal aquifer, but also adds a fact that has never before seen the light: For a period of a few months during the past year, non-potable water, polluted by fertilizers, reached the national water carrier. The IUED document also points to an overall deterioration in the quality of water in Lake Kinneret.
The Mekorot national water company noted yesterday in response that Lake Kinneret water never reaches consumers in an untreated form, but undergoes a series of purification processes and is eventually provided to the public at the quality level dictated by the Health Ministry. Mekorot noted that it had initiated the establishment of a central filtering facility that would further enhance the quality of the Kinneret water. Prominent in the report is the problem of waste disposal sites. The document notes that over the past several years, the Environment Ministry has successfully shut down most of the nation's unauthorized landfills, but the report also names several dozen sites that still constitute severe environmental hazards.
One such site is near a residential neighborhood in the city of Lod, southeast of Tel Aviv. For the past two years, the report notes, waste material of various kinds has been dumped at the site. The illegal landfill, IUED says, contains 140 tons of garbage piled to a height of 12 meters. The site, a medical hazard due to its proximity to a residential neighborhood, was ordered closed by the Environmental Ministry; however, the Lod Municipality has yet to carry out the order.
In the case of Umm Batin, the IUED decided to take legal action in an effort to ensure that the waste in the Bedouin village is removed by the authorities. Some two months ago, the organization petitioned the High Court of Justice on the matter, asking that it order the Interior and Environment ministries to explain why they are not dealing with the waste that has accumulated in the village.
According to the report, the north of the country, too, has dozens of pirate waste dumps, and the local authorities have been unable to shut them down. In some cases, the report notes, local authorities are party to the operations at these unauthorized dumping sites. The IUED says that the Environment Ministry has only 33 "green police" at its disposal, noting that this is far too small a force to effectively deal with the numerous environmental hazards throughout the country.
Environment Ministry Director-General Dr. Miki Haran says that despite the limited manpower at the ministry's disposal, the ministry pursues many inquiries and files charges against polluters, including large companies and regional council heads. "We're doing our best with the green police, and we are being helped by the ministry's district officials ans the environmental departments at the local authorities," Haran says. "But it's obvious that if we are expected to do more, we need more manpower and funds," Another serious issue dealt with in the report concerns the ongoing damage being caused to open expanses intended for public use. At present, Israel's r esidential neighborhoods provide some seven square meters of open public area per capita, as opposed to the norm of some 20 square meters in Western countries.
Many cities are turning open public expanses into residential areas or parking lots, the report notes, citing Petah Tikva, Tel Aviv and Lod as examples. Lately, the Environment Ministry has stepped up its efforts to file law suits against regional councils and council leaders that have failed to deal with environmental hazards in their jurisdictions. One such suit was filed against the Beit Jan Regional Council; and earlier this month, the Krayot Magistrate's Court imposed a fine of NIS 100,000 on the council. ========== Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 100 articles at http://jewishveg.com/schwartz. President of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, College of Staten Island 2800 Victory Bulevard, Staten Island, NY 10314 Phone: (718) 761-5876 Fax: (718) 982-3631 E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org