Israel-s Air Resources Management Program
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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 Israel-s Air Resources Management Program

8/4/1998

 

 SPOTLIGHT ON ISRAEL
 
Israel's Air Resources Management Program

In Israel, as elsewhere in the world, rapid technological development, improvement in standards of living and increased population density have brought in their wake pollutant emissions from both stationary and mobile sources. Israel's specific conditions -- concentration of population and industry in the coastal area, small land area, variety of natural assets, and singular geological, topographical and climatic features -- aggravate the problems of air pollution.

The main sources of air pollution in Israel are energy production, transportation and industry. Since these are largely concentrated in the coastal plain, the highest levels of pollution have been detected in this area. Natural conditions for pollution dispersion in the atmosphere of the coastal area are not favorable and, until recently, relatively high concentrations of sulfur dioxide (SO2), emitted for the most part by power plants and oil refineries, have been recorded in the Ashdod and Haifa Bay areas. Intense industrial activity in the Haifa Bay, coupled with difficult atmospheric dispersion conditions caused by the influence of the Mediterranean Sea and the complex topography of Mount Carmel, make this area one of the most problematic in terms of air pollution.

The rapid emergence of industrial plants in the vicinity of urban centers has exacerbated air pollution problems throughout Israel. Pollution sources include cement plants, quarries, chemical and petrochemical plants and several other industries. Dense vehicular traffic is also a major contributor to air pollution, causing high nitrogen oxide (NOx) concentrations, especially in the heavily populated urban centers of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. The problem is compounded by the operation of diesel-powered buses and trucks. Increased motorization has had a major impact on the deterioration of air quality, especially in the coastal area.


Principles of Air Resources Management

Israel's air quality policy is based on the following elements: prevention of air pollution through the integration of environmental considerations and physical planning; monitoring and intermittent control systems; legislation and enforcement including ambient and emission standards; improvement of fuel quality; research; international cooperation; individual treatment of pollution sources; and reduction of pollutant emissions from motor vehicles.

Wherever possible, efforts are concentrated on limiting air pollution through rational physical planning. The Planning and Building Law, through its Environmental Impact Statement Regulations of 1982, serves an important function in air quality preservation, by restricting emissions of air pollutants from planned installations, as dictated by emission standards based on Best Available Technology (BAT). Preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) Is required for any of the following types of projects, if significant environmental impact is expected: electric power plants, hazardous waste disposal sites, mines, quarries, and industrial plants located outside designated industrial areas if they are deemed likely to cause a significant impact on the environment beyond the locality. To date, because of the lack of statutory regulations dealing with emission standards, personal decrees issued in accordance with the Abatement of Nuisances Law, have constituted one of the most important legal instruments in Israel for controlling air pollution from existing stationary sources. These administrative directives include specific stipulations to polluters on how to prevent air pollution, and have been issued to some twenty industrial plants including some of Israel's older power plants, crude oil refineries, cement plants, phosphate loading terminals, chemical and petrochemical plants, quarries, and other factories. Similar environmental limits on air pollution are also introduced into the business licenses of problematic plants, under the Licensing of Businesses Law.


Israel's New Air Resources Management Program

Despite major investments in air pollution prevention in past years (especially in the reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions), the state of air pollution in Israel remains unsatisfactory. In order to bring about significant improvements in air pollution abatement and prevention, a comprehensive new program for the management of air resources was formulated in 1994. In the wake of the program, scales of priority are already changing. Emphasis is being shifted from ambient standards to emission standards; increased attention is directed at technological solutions to pollutant emissions from stationary sources; concentration is focusing on the reduction of vehicular emissions; new efforts are being invested in controlling photochemical smog; steps are being taken to establish a nationwide monitoring network; and preparations for a comprehensive Clean Air Act designed to provide Israel with the statutory tools necessary to manage its air quality resources in the best manner possible, have been initiated.


Air Quality Monitoring

Availability of nationwide accurate data on air quality is a prerequisite for the formulation of a comprehensive national air quality management program. Air quality monitoring in Israel started in the beginning of the 1970s in the Tel Aviv and Ashdod areas, when the major emphasis was on pollutants emitted by the Reading and the Eshkol power plants. While 63 monitoring stations currently operate in Israel, nearly all are situated in the environs of power plants and major industrial areas. Monitoring is inadequate or non-existent in the industrial areas of Tel Aviv and Beersheba, while monitoring of vehicular pollutants in city centers and densely populated areas is sporadic at best. Moreover, under unfavorable meteorological and topographical conditions, the pollutants may be transported from one region to another, adversely affecting areas dozens of kilometers away.

To fill the information gap and to help develop long-term strategies for pollution prevention, preparations for a national air monitoring system, including a national control center for data storage, analysis and display, are now being advanced. The multi-million dollar system will be based on individual air monitoring stations, regional control centers and a national data processing center. Individual stations will include stations for the monitoring of pollutant concentrations from stationary sources; roadside stations for the monitoring of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides emitted from mobile sources; and stations equipped with facilities for the monitoring of airborne chemical substances. New stations will be established in each region of the country in accordance with defined scales of priority including population density, sources of pollution, and necessity for data to be used in intermittent control systems.

The program is conceived as a three-year plan, with first priority going to the establishment of monitoring stations in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.


Vehicular Pollution

Without doubt, the major challenge in coming years will be to significantly reduce pollution from vehicular sources. Despite a fourfold increase in the number of motor vehicles over the past two decades, little has been done to reduce emissions, either by legislation or by supervision and inspection. Urban traffic constitutes an ever-growing menace to air quality in Israel. Vehicle density has risen from 34 cars per thousand population in 1954 to over 230 today, with the number of cars reaching 1.4 million. It is estimated that by the year 2000 the number of cars in Israel will exceed 2 million. Transportation sources are responsible for a lion's share of the country's carbon monoxide pollution and for a substantial percentage of the concentrations of lead, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and particulates in the environment. With the exception of lead, the concentrations of all these pollutants have risen dramatically over the past decade.

Several steps have already been instituted to help abate the problem; others are planned. All new cars imported into the country, beginning with 1995 models, must be equipped with catalytic converters a gradual switch to unleaded gasoline is underway; and the lead content in regular gasoline has been reduced from 0.42 grams per liter in 1987 to 0. 15% today (a complete phaseout of leaded gasoline within ten years is anticipated). It is estimated that by the year 2000, some 50% of Israel's motor vehicles will be equipped with catalytic converters and by 2025, all the vehicles will be so equipped. Other steps currently being undertaken or promoted include the promulgation of regulations on the prevention of vehicular emissions (both black smoke and carbon monoxide); increased roadside supervision and enforcement of vehicle emissions standards in accordance with European Union standards; restrictions on the use of private vehicles (particularly restricted entry into city centers); encouragement of public transport; information campaigns to increase public awareness; and promotion of research on the epidemiology of respirable suspended particles produced from diesel vehicles and sulfates.


Air Pollution Emissions

Energy production and consumption are the major sources of air pollution in Israel in light of the fact that Israel's energy economy is currently based on fossil fuels, especially oil and coal. The possibility of importing natural gas for electricity production, as a partial substitute for petroleum-based fuels in the future, should bring about substantial improvements in air pollution from these sources. Recent estimates on the countrywide quantities of pollutants emitted into the atmosphere from fuel combustion reveal that with the exception of three pollutants -- sulfur oxides. total particulate matter and lead -- emissions of all pollutants have increased drastically since 1980.

In order to protect human health and to preserve the environment, environmental policy must be based on a number of principles: precautionary action, the "polluter pays principle" and cooperation between environmental and economic bodies. In order to implement this policy, national legislation is establishing targets for the minimization of air pollutants, and emission standards are being set based on best available technologies. It is anticipated that emission standards for the following pollutants will be promulgated in 1996: particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, gaseous inorganic substances, hazardous inorganic particulate matter, and carcinogenic substances.


A Look to the Future

The industrialization and motorization of Israel are carrying a heavy toll. While Israel does not yet suffer from the severe air pollution episodes which have been encountered in some urban areas worldwide, the trend in recent years has not been encouraging. However, stringent new standards, accompanied by tough enforcement, and the introduction of technological improvements for the abatement of air pollution from both stationary and mobile sources offer new hope. At the dawn of the new century, air pollution trends may well reverse their direction.

 
 
 
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