Carcinogen emissions up 14% in Israel in 2020

Hadera power plant  credit: Eyal Fischer

Waste burning is the source of 62% of the carcinogens released into the air, while Israel is a leader for greenhouse gas emissions per capita.

How much do factories in Israel pollute the air, the sea and the ground? How much does the pollution cost the public, and how much carcinogenic material is released into the air by industrial activity? A new report by the Ministry of Environmental Protection paints a worrying picture, indicating a rise in the release of carcinogens into the air in 2020, despite the lockdowns that reduced road traffic and industrial activity.

Emissions of materials known or suspected to be carcinogenic rose by 14% in 2020, according the registry of emissions into the environment published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection today. The rise is mainly attributed to new sources of benzene emissions discovered at the ICL Rotem (Rotem Amfert Negev) fertilizer plant and at Yehuda Steel, and to a rise in production at asphalt plants. The report also states that emissions by factories into the air, the sea, rivers and the land as a result of breakdowns have risen by 330% since 2012.

The registry of emissions into the environment covers emissions data for the 570 largest industrial enterprises in Israel as reported to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. From it, the ministry produces an estimate of the external cost of emissions, that is, how much the pollution costs the public, which pays in environmental damage, surplus morbidity, and emissions into the atmosphere that worsen the climate crisis.

In 2020, the external cost of emissions of pollutants into the air was NIS 12.9 billion, 5.7% less than in 2019. The decline stemmed from a reduction in the use of coal at the Orot Rabin and Rotenberg power plants, the closure of the Phoenicia glass works at Nof Hagalil, and the cessation of cement production at Bet Shemesh.

The ten largest emitters of polluting materials, causing 68% of the external cost, are the Orot Rabin power plant at Hadera, the Rotenberg power plant at Ashkelon (both operated by Israel Electric Corporation), the Nesher cement factory at Ramla, the Eshkol power plant at Ashdod , the Hagit power plant at Hof Hacarmel, Rotem Amfert Negev on the Rotem plain, Oil Refineries Haifa (Bazan), the Haifa power plant, the Dorad power plant at Ashkelon, and the Orot Yosef power plant at Neot Hovav.

Although the release of substances known or suspected to be carcinogenic has fallen by 45% since 2012 according to the registry, in 2020 there was, as mentioned, a rise of 14%. Among other things, the Ministry of Environmental Protection found a source of benzene emissions at Rotem Amfert Negev, and at Yehuda Steel, for the first time, sampling owas carried out of benzene and toluene. Waste burning is a main cause of emissions of known or suspected carcinogenic substances. Waste burning contributed 62% of these emissions in 2020. Road traffic, ships and fuel stations accounted for 26%, industry accounted for 34%, and power production was responsible for just 1%.

Prof. Adi Wolfson, an expert on sustainability at the Shamoon College of Engineering, points to the fact that a substantial part of the rise this year is from a new discovery, and says, "High levels of emissions were discovered at large, regulated plants that have been reporting to the registry for years, and that's a concern. At Rotem Amfert a source of emissions was discovered that had not been known, and at Yehuda Steel emissions were discovered because sampling of benzene and toluene was carried out for the first time. The source of these emissions is plastic waste used as raw material and melted at very high temperatures. The question arises, why was this monitoring not carried out before now, and are there unrecognized, unmonitored sources like these at other plants?"

Severe effects on public health

Emissions per capita of nitrogen oxides in Israel are double the levels in the European Union. 48% of them come from transport, 34% from power production, and 17% from industry. Nitrogen oxides lead to inflammation in the respiratory system, a rise in sensitivity to viral illnesses, a rise in asthma attacks, and a rise in heart disease. The main sources of emissions of nitrogen oxides is the coal fired power station at Hadera, where some of the power production units still operate without advanced equipment for reducing emissions nitrogen and sulphur oxides.

Emissions of volatile organic compounds, excluding methane, rose 4% last year, mainly because of expanded production at Rotem Amfert Negev (34%) and Haifa Negev Technologies (21%). One of the causes of these emissions is the lack of an RTO (regenerative thermal oxidizer) system for reducing emissions. The system was installed only in 2021. Rotem Amfert Negev failed to install the system on schedule, and was fined NIS 730,000 this month because of that.

42% of the exposure to volatile organic compounds other than methane actually occurs in the home (cleaning reagents, glues, cosmetics, washing materials, and dies). Other emissions occur when fuels are burned or stored, in the petrochemicals and other industries. These emissions affect the lungs, cause allergic reactions, and damage the liver and the nervous system.

Israel a peak greenhouse gas source

There is no obligation to report emissions of greenhouse gases to the registry, but the report nevertheless contains a chapter on these emissions. Israel is among the highest countries for greenhouse gas emissions per capita. In 2019, emissions per capital were 8.9 tonnes, 82% more than the global average, and 36% more than the figure for the European Union. Israel's emissions are exceeded only by Japan, Russia, the US, Canada, and Australia. While Israel's population is just 0.11% of the population of the world, its greenhouse gas emissions represent 0.18% of the global total. In relation to the European Union, Israel lags behind in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Whereas in the European Union greenhouse gas emissions fell by an average of 4%, in Israel there was a reduction of 2% in 2019 and 3% in 2020, the latter because during the coronavirus pandemic demand for power did not grow. The average rise in demand for power in Israel is 2.2% annually.

The global average for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is 0.3%, indicating failure in dealing with the emissions accumulating in the atmosphere and leading to a severe climatic and ecological crisis.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on August 30, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Hadera power plant  credit: Eyal Fischer
Hadera power plant credit: Eyal Fischer
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