Haifa mayor: Ammonia tanks endanger 600,000 lives

Haifa mayor presents report proving ammonia tanks constitute high risk, Haifa Chemicals slams mayor for 'sowing panic.'

Tags: Haifa Ammonia
Chana Roberts ,

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav
Arutz Sheva

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav at a press conference on Tuesday presented a report warning of severe risks to the Haifa Bay Area's citizens and environment from ammonia brought to the city, and said he is considering filing a lawsuit to prevent ships carrying ammonia from entering Israel's territorial waters.

Haifa is a port city with a population of 300,000 and receives 16,700 tons of liquid ammonia each month. Though high doses of ammonia are lethal, the colorless gas serves as a precursor to manufacturing plant food and fertilizers. Ammonia has a pungent smell and is used in many pharmaceutical and cleaning products. The current ammonia containers are nearly forty years old, and need to be replaced.

The report was written by a group of ten professors and academics with Ph.d.'s in Chemistry headed by Technion Professor Ehud Keinan.

Keinan insisted the Israeli government "close down the plant now" and warned that if the ammonia ship were to be hit, "nothing will be left alive up to six miles away. Half a percent of ammonia in the air means certain death within ten to fifteen minutes."

He also pointed out that other areas of the country are at risk, since the ammonia unloaded at the Haifa Port is shipped by truck to other locations in Israel, and trucks are "known to get into accidents."

Keinan also noted Hezbollah has enough weapons with long enough range, and would easily be able to hit Haifa's ammonia tank.

The report said, "The total amount of ammonia needed for Israel’s economy does not exceed 3,000 tons a year.This minimal amount can be imported and stored in small and protected containers that can be spread throughout safe areas across the country without risking the population.

"The threat from the sea is not being taken seriously despite being much more dangerous than the land container. The encounter of the liquid chemical and sea water is potentially catastrophic. Half of the ammonia would melt in the water but the other half would boil and create a cloud of gas. A terror attack on the ship could create a cloud weighing 8,000 tons that would extend over 20 kilometers (12 miles) and cover the entire area of Haifa, risking the lives of over 600,000 people."

Yahav slammed the Israeli government's inaction saying, "Mister Prime Minister, we are in an emergency order (IDF Tzav 8 in Hebrew) situation, and the government is discussing Amona for hours instead of ammonia.

"The tanks could literally collapse within months. They must be shut down and moved immediately. We have studied other ammonia storage facility collapses around the world, and we have strong fears that the same thing could happen here," Yahav said.

Yahav also quoted the National Security Commission as claiming Haifa's Kishon Harbor ammonia tank was completely resilient.

"I asked my staff to find out who’s behind this report, which recommends keeping the container here. To my surprise I discovered that the report being used by the NSC was written by Haifa Chemicals, the plant’s owner," he said.

In a statement, Haifa Chemicals, which owns the ammonia container in question, slammed Yahav for "sowing panic and using a professional report cynically to rehash threats that have been dismissed by security officials."

"Yahav would do better to invest his time in repairing the city’s poor health and education systems and improve the city’s socioeconomic level rather than cause provocations based on untruths."

In June 2015, then-Environment Minister Avi Gabai (Kulanu) promised that the ammonia tank owned by Haifa Chemicals would "be gone within three years." In December, the Environmental Protection Ministry summoned Haifa Chemicals to a hearing, warning them to immediately discontinue the use of poisonous chemicals, and the plant's permit to use them expired on January 20, 2017.

In February 2016, Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah said, "Hezbollah has a 'nuclear bomb' - Haifa has 15 tons of ammonia, and any Hezbollah missile attack will turn them into a nuclear bomb that would cause the deaths of tens of thousands."