Environment Ministry document:
Acid leaks found at Dead Sea chemical site

Company wishes to continue operation additional half-year to avoid financial loss, Environment Ministry supports request.

Contact Editor
Mordechai Sones,

Previous spill at Nachal Eshelim
Previous spill at Nachal Eshelim
Moshe Glantz

A document from the Environment Ministry acquired by Ynet's Amir ben David has revealed that a replacement pool that was approved for Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL) after their acid pool collapsed four months ago in Nahal Eshelim near the Dead Sea is leaking and polluting the surrounding area.

In July, a leak in the Judean Desert's Rotem Amfert plant's battery wall caused a leak of high-acid fluid. The Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority worked to block the continued flow of pollutants and prevented travelers from reaching the area. Highway 90 was closed to traffic between the Dead Sea Works and Ein Tamar for about five hours following the acidic water reservoir breach and subsequent flow of acid into the area. Environmental Protection Ministry officials said "It's like a winter flood; the whole river is filled with acid."

Nevertheless, the Ministry supports the company's request to allow it to use the pool for another six months. In the event that their position is adopted by the local planning committee, it will greatly assist the company controlled by London-based businessman Idan Ofer, since closing the pool would require the closure of at least half of the plant's activities and cause heavy economic damage to the company.

After its acid pool collapsed and caused a "toxic tsunami" in Nahal Eshelim, ICL asked the Environmental Protection Ministry to allow the Rotem Amfert plant to operate an alternative pool adjacent to the huge limestone mountain on which the original pool stood. As revealed by Yediot Ahronot, there were no building permits for the pools on the mountain - one of which collapsed, for the mountain itself, as well as for the alternative pool (pool 4) for which an emergency permit was given after the disaster. The same pools were supposed to be closed more than a decade ago, but no one saw to it that the guidelines be implemented. This did not prevent the Ministry from allowing Rotem Amfert, who at the time had to shut down much of its activity, to use the pool, and it began pumping the toxic acids.

Several weeks later, ICL began the process of obtaining a permanent building permit for the alternative pool from the Tamar Regional Council, which benefits from the high municipal taxes the company is supposed to pay, and who was supposed to ensure that the guidelines for closing the pools were implemented. In the framework of the request, ICL also requested "easements" - a procedure in which it sought to retroactively legitimize the fact that the pools were not closed and rehabilitated in time, and receive an extension for their rehabilitation. The Adam Teva V'Din environmental association claims that granting such a permit is illegal and that this request should be rejected out of hand.

Today (Sunday) the Tamar Local Planning Committee is scheduled to discuss ICL's requests. Prior to the discussion, the council asked to receive an environmental opinion from the Ministry. The document obtained by Yediot Ahronot reveals that monitoring drills surrounding the new pool revealed a significant increase in the water level, which the Ministry believes is forms a "reasonable suspicion" that the pool is leaking. This means that other pollutants and toxic substances are now polluting the soil, in addition to the huge pollution already caused.

ICL claims that the Ministry's conclusion is wrong, and that one of the proofs is that monitoring carried out on the walls of the pool shows that they are dry. Another argument is that even if there is a leak, the material being discharged into the pool would coats and seal the pool floor more and therefore leakage would decrease. The Ministry was not convinced by the company's arguments, but this did not prevent the Ministry from informing the committee that it had no objection to allowing the company to use the pool for another six months.

In a document he submitted to the committee, Baruch Weber, Director of the Southern District of the Ministry, details a series of demands that the company must comply with, and restrictions on the use of part of the pool in order to allow its continued use, including pumping and treating ground water. This is despite the Ministry's position that these actions will only reduce the polluting elements infiltrating the land and will not prevent it entirely.

"We believe that compliance with the conditions and additional instructions required by the Ministry will reduce the continued infiltration into the soil and indeed the possibility of efficient treatment of liquids that seeped up and accumulated so that temporary use of the pool can be used as an emergency," Weber concluded.

"There is no resemblance and no connection to the event from July.

"The company has always acted and acted according to the law, including the planning and building laws, and according to the authorities' instructions, cooperation and transparency with all the relevant parties, and will act so in this case as well."

The Environmental Protection Ministry responds that "the suspicion of leakage around Pool 4 at the Rotem Amfert Negev plant has been made known to the Environmental Protection Ministry in recent days and it has instructed the plant to take steps to prevent further leakage and to treat and pump fluids found in the subsoil. It should be emphasized that the infiltration was discovered as a result of monitoring activities that the Ministry demanded. The extent of the infiltration and information regarding the effectiveness of the actions already taken will be clarified after additional actions required by the Ministry are completed. In accordance with the Ministry's position as submitted to the Local Committee, the completion of additional operations is a precondition for granting the building permit.

"There is no similarity whatsoever to the event from July, which resulted from the collapse of the pool wall and caused the release of its contents into Nahal Eshelim."








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