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Behind the Headlines a ‘love Canal’ in Israel

— Romat Hovov may become the “Love Canal” of Israel, according to some environmental experts. The Israel government has proposed a national hazardous waste facility at this site, 12 kilometers from Beersheba, Dr. Philip Alkon told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Alkon is senior research scientist at the Desert Ecology Center of Ben Gurion University of the Desert in Sde Boker.

Dr. Uri Morinov, director of Israel’s Environmental Protection Service (EPS), has stated that “Israel is (already) sitting on a bombshell of waste.” In an interview last month with this reporter, he said: “The sites are full and there are no new ones available. Since 1973, I’ve been pushing for using waste for energy.”

In addition to the potential threat of hazardous waste at Romat Hovov, there are already four chemical companies in the area. Alkon’s unit is planning to study the impact of these industries on the soil, vegetation, wild life, air and water quality. A New Yorker who made aliya in 1978, Alkon is project supervisor for Ben Gurion University’s Ramat Hovav research.

NATURE OF THE STUDY

“Our study is to find out what the Ramat Hovav pollutants are, by taking measures of air and water quality,” Alkon said. “We will begin to measure as soon as we have the right equipment and support. There have been incidences of illnesses among the workers at Ramat Hovov. Right now no one lives there but Bedouins, And animals also graze in the vicinity. Our plan is for at least a three-year study, to see if we can reduce what in the environment is responding to pollutants.”

Two of the Romat Hovav offenders; the Dead Bromine Works and Makhteshim, a manufacturer of insecticides and other agricultural chemicals, also threaten the residents of Beersheba with air pollution, according to American environmental engineer Jack lauber.

Lauber, chief of the Toxic Technology Section, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany, spent two months in Israel last year, as a consultant to Israel’s EPS. He is a member of the advisory board of the U.S. Committee for the Israel Environment, a group of American scientists, engineers and environmentalists who for the past six years have devoted time and professional expertise to improve the environment of Israel.

The U.S. Committee for the Israel Environment was founded and is largely supported by B.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, Inc. The group provides expert independent recommendation for environmental concerns in Israel, brings Israeli environmentalists to the U.S. for training, and educates the public here and in Israel about Israel’s environment. Dr. Haim Gunner, a professor of environmental science at Amberst University, Mass., is secretary, and Joshua Morrison a director of the Israel Discount Trust Co., in New York, is chairman.

TROUBLE SPOTS DISCOVERED

When Louber was in Israel he discovered trouble spots that range from mere nuisances to potential killers. After he returned to the U.S., one industry he had called a major offender, the frutarom chemical plant in Acre, made headlines in Israeli newspapers.

In April 1980, residents of Acre and members of a nearby kibbutz, Ein Homifratz, became ill and several were hospitalized with respiratory ailments caused by emissions of large quantities of toxic gases from a series of accidents at Frutarom. The plant manufactures vinyl chloride, a building block for vinyl plastics.

Describing vinyl chloride as “an invisible but lethal gas that can cause a rare form of liver cancer,” Lauber said “the Frutarom facility has some controls, but I suspect there may be losses of ten tons or more of toxic gas per day.

Lauber recommends education here and in Israel about environmental hazards, to motivate the public and the government of Israel to take effective action. He further finds “much apathy and ignorance” about these hazards, both here and in Israel, and he urges major Jewish American organizations to put environmental education on their agendas.

ISRAEL’S BASIC PROBLEM

Asked to sum up Israel’s basic problem regarding pollution, Marinow said, “The legislative approach is geared to nuisance control rather than an attempt to prevent or reduce various types of pollution through planning and strategy. Even the comprehensive water pollution laws stress economic rather than environmental concern.” As examples, he cited inadequate legal coverage of industrial waste problems, and no direct coverage of systems for handling disposal and recovery of solid waste.

For the future, Marinov is concerned with the environmental consequences of possible new sources of energy. Israel is exploring reservoirs of oil, natural gas and coal, and also researching alternative fuels such as solar energy, hydro-electric power and energy from shale peat, waste and algae. “If any of these options becomes commercially profitable, we will have to carefully evaluate the effects on animal, plant and human life,” he explains.

Along with dangers of air pollution and hazardous waste, the water supply is scarce and vulnerable. “Israel’s water management has developed dramatically, but the severe shortage of water and the often irreversible pollution of its sources are still a threat,” Marinov said.

In addition to air and water quality, other areas, some not now regulated by EPS, require environmental control. Solid waste, noise, pesticides and chemicals, land use planning and urban transportation are yet to be dealt with sufficiently.

Despite activities in Israel and here to preserve Israel’s environment, experts such as Morinov, Louber, Alkon and others concur that much more needs to be done. Lauber warned: “The toxic chemicals in Israel’s environment will not kill anyone in days, weeks or even years. The lesson of New York State’s Love Canal has taught us, however, that chemical wastes and toxic substances can be time bombs for future generations. Environmental protection is not a luxury that Israel can afford later, but is a necessity now.”

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