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Haifa Residents After Beirut Explosion: We Could Be Next

Haifa Residents After Beirut Explosion: We Could Be Next
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By Dan Lavie and Daniel Siryoti – ‘Israel’ Hayom

The explosion in Beirut on Tuesday that killed at least 100 people and injured thousands, reviving concern among residents of the greater Haifa area that a similar fate could befall them if the petrochemical facilities at Haifa Bay were the site of a major accident or bombed.

Dr. Revital Goldschmidt of the Environmental Research Center in Haifa said, "The event in Lebanon illustrates the danger of having concentrations of hazardous materials near a dense population center, and underscores the urgent need to close the flammable, volatile industries."

Goldschmidt said, "People claim that what exploded [in Beirut] was ammonium nitrate. The ammonium storage facility [in Haifa] has been emptied, but Haifa Bay is still at risk from ammonia, with the tankers carrying it docked not far from the population, and a fertilizer factory that manufactures fertilizer and explosives in the middle of the city, which have 15-ton holding vats that are unprotected.

"We call on the government to submit a plan to close these dangerous factories to the cabinet, urgently," she said.

Goldschmidt went on to say that ‘Israel’ was not prepared to handle a mass casualty event of the magnitude that would result from an explosion at the Haifa facilities.

"An event on the scale of what happened in Lebanon [with thousands of injured] could put ‘Israel's’ national strength at risk," the scientist added.

Attorney Jameela Hardal Wakim, director of the Citizens for the Environment non-profit organization, said, "What happened in Beirut could happen in Haifa Bay, as well, or in Ashdod, or anywhere else where there are large stores of hazardous material.

"According to the latest [and incomplete] risk assessment, there are 1,500 risk points and 800 hazardous materials in Haifa Bay, and we also know that the necessary safety measures have not been taken," Hardal Wakim added.

The attorney said that steps have not been taken to reduce the amount of hazardous materials located at Haifa Bay. She noted that there were also no preparations to handle an accident involving more than one site, or a chain event.

"Small-scale hazardous materials events in Haifa Bay are routine, and we must not wait until a major disaster happens before we act on recommendations to reduce the risks," Hardal Wakim said.

Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem said, "A major disaster occurred at the Port of Beirut. Haifa sends it condolences to the families who lost loved ones. For years, even before I was elected mayor, I have led a fight to stop the expansion of the polluting industries at Haifa Bay. Today, it's clear to us all that it isn't enough to stop them from growing – they also need to leave.

"Our concern, which is based on experts in the field, is about the exact scenario that took place to the north of ‘Israel’ yesterday [Tuesday]," Kalisch-Rotem said.

The Haifa mayor said that Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel had announced that the Bazan Group's petrochemical facilities would be moved out of Haifa Bay within a few years.

Kiryat Bialik Mayor Eli Dokorsky said, "The deathly blast in Beirut echoes, and demands that we oust the petrochemical industry form Haifa Bay. Hazardous materials and polluting factories have no place in the urban space, amid the population. Having been horrified at the sights from Lebanon, this is the time to take action, and sooner rather than later."

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