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Fourth Maccabiah Athlete Dies, Raising Questions About Pollution

August 12, 1997
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A fourth Australian has died as a result of the bridge collapse at the opening ceremonies of last month’s Maccabiah Games.

Warren Zeins, 56, died in Israel of complications from an infection caused by ingesting polluted water in the Yarkon River, according to officials at Sheba Hospital.

The legal issues stemming from the July 30 tragedy could be just beginning. The president of Maccabi Australia, Tom Goldman, has just returned from Israel with water and soil samples. He has commissioned independent tests on the samples and is reportedly considering suing Israeli authorities if an investigation indicates that the water toxins caused the death of some of the athletes.

The deaths — and the 10 Australian athletes still in serious condition, reportedly as a result of ingesting water from the Yarkon — could also shed light on the issue of neglected environmental pollution in Israel’s bodies of water.

Zeins was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit four weeks ago in critical condition and suffering from respiratory problems.

His condition improved slightly a day after his admission, but began deteriorating about three days later.

Hospital officials said Zeins’ system was unable to overcome infection caused from ingesting water from the Yarkon, which they said had a high bacterial level.

Two Australian athletes were immediately killed and hundreds of other participants at the Maccabiah Games were injured when a pedestrian bridge collapsed at the Ramat Gan stadium, plunging scores of people into the river below.

The two initial fatalities were Gregory Small, 37, and Yetty Bennett, 50, both of Sydney and both members of the 10-pin bowling team.

Elizabeth Sawicki, 47, died 12 days later of lung complications that hospital officials attributed to contaminants in the river water.

A week after the collapse, a public commission found that the accident was caused by a chain of failures involving the bridge’s planning and construction.

Police questioned Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar last week in connection with allegations that the municipality had failed to properly supervise the bridge’s approval.

The deaths of Sawicki and Zeins have prompted medical officials to analyze water samples from the Yarkon River.

The river has been tested for dangerous levels of heavy metals, which were initially thought to have caused their deaths.

But lab tests conducted in Israel found that the river did not contain enough to be harmful to humans.

Officials have sent water samples to laboratories in the United States, where tests for organic matter will be conducted.

Officials at the Environment Ministry and Yarkon River Authority have ruled out contamination from organic pesticides as a cause for the deaths.

Officials said the product used was environmentally friendly and in low concentrations.

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