The Environmental Protection Ministry will not contest the planned building of a new phosphate plant near the southern Israeli city
of Arad, despite studies showing it may increase air pollution-related deaths in the area.
According to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth, the residents of Arad and the surrounding Bedouin townships have been fighting plans by Rotem Amfert Negev Ltd, a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL), to build the factory in the Sdeh Brir area for several years now.
According to the residents, the process of mining phosphates in accompanied by explosions and causes heavy dust clouds that will envelop the area, thus increasing air pollution. Rotem Amfert, on the other hand, claims that a survey commissioned by it to test the factory's environmental impact on the area show no substantial added risk.
Nevertheless, a recent study preformed buy the Arad municipality shows that at least seven people will die every year as a result of the new factory's pollution. The study further voiced concerns that the mining activity may cause an increase in radon gas emission, subsequently causing an increase in cancer morbidity.
Following the municipal report, the Health Ministry announced it was against building the factory in the proposed location. Rotem Amfert filed a motion for continuance with the local planning and zoning commission in order to study the findings, citing it "will not go ahead with any project that may put the public at risk."
Environment Minister Gidon Ezra, however, is said to believe the mining activity poses no danger to local residents, and is in favor of keeping Rotem Amfert's plans unchanged.
When called on the matter by Meretz-Yahad Chairman
MK Chaim Oron, Ezra replied that "any additional dust to Arad and Kuseife (local council) in minute." Ezra then went on to list the "strict measures" he believed should be taken in order supervise the facility, such as the contestant measuring of pollution levels on site and ceasing all operations in certain weather conditions.
The Environmental Protection Ministry, said Ezra, "Believes that taking such measure would ensure the facility's activities will not cause any irregularities in the standardized dust emissions specifies by law."