Israel Environment Bulletin Summer 1993-5754, Vol. 16, No. 3


Air quality issues ranked high in the environmental chapter of the State Comptroller Report for 1992. In Israel, as elsewhere in the world, rapid technological development, rises in standards of living and increased population and density have brought in their wake increased pollutant emissions from both stationary and mobile sources.

Most sources of air pollution in Israel, namely energy production, transportation and industry, are concentrated near densely populated areas, especially along the coastal zone. Upon the establishment of the Ministry of the Environment in December 1988, most of the legal authority for air quality was concentrated within its framework. Yet several aspects of air quality management remain under the responsibility of other ministries. The Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure is in charge of the import and production of crude and refined oils and of fuel marketing. The Ministry of Transport supplies consultancy services, data collection and forecasting through its Meteorological Service, and is responsible for legislation, supervision and enforcement of transport regulations on vehicular emissions through its Vehicle Division. The Ministry of Health, through its District Health Bureaus, is also involvedespecially in the enforcement of regulations within the framework of the Public Health Ordinance.

Major Findings

Following is a brief outline of the State Comptroller's major findings. Several of the issues will be discussed in further detail in the ensuing paragraphs.

  • While a significant decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions was noted, especially in the Haifa area, emissions of most other pollutants were on the increase. Consequently, air quality in most areas of Israel has not improved over the past decade.

  • Air monitoring is not geographically distributed throughout the country, and exists, for the most part, only in the environs of the Electric Corporation's power stations.

  • Emission standards for industrial plants and other facilities have not been incorporated in regulations.

  • Requirements obligating industrial plants to install economically-feasible pollution-abatement equipment have not been set.

  • Epidemiological surveys and health monitoring in polluted areas have essentially stopped. The Ministry of the Environment, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, has not formulated a program for continued health monitoring.

  • Although a study of the Haifa region has underlined the fact that pollution entails a high economic price, complementary studies have not been undertaken in other areas, nor has a national policy providing the proper balance between health damages and the cost of their prevention been formulated.

  • The recommendations of the Harrari report on air quality standards and the fuel economy, approved by government decision in 1991, have only been partially implemented.

  • In the wake of the Harrari recommendations, a comprehensive review of the direct and indirect costs to the national economy from air pollution has not been undertaken.

  • Despite the fact that Ministry of the Environment data point to the fact that vehicular emissions constitute a major source of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions, tests of motor vehicles, in coordination with the Ministry of Transport and the Israel Police, are inadequate.

  • The interministerial committee, appointed by the director general of the Ministry of the Environment in 1990 to propose practical means of preventing and minimizing air pollution from vehicles, has not submitted its recommendations.

  • Despite technological changes in the car industry and the greater variety of new cars imported into Israel, sufficient means to encourage use of lead-free gasoline have not been undertaken.

    Air Quality Monitoring

    Availability of accurate data on air quality is a prerequisite for the formulation of a comprehensive national air quality management program. In Israel, however, monitoring stations are not evenly- distributed geographically, but are limited to the environs of power plants and major industrial areas. Under unfavorable meteorological and topographical conditions, the pollutants may be transported from one region to anotheradversely affecting outlying areas.

    The State Comptroller claims: "In some areas, in which industrial plants abound, monitoring has not been undertaken altogether or was undertaken solely as a result of a severe air pollution episode. For example, in the Tel Aviv and Central Districts, no monitoring network exists except for the network surrounding the Reading power plant; in the Southern District of the ministry, monitoring is only undertaken in the Ashdod-Ashkelon area, while in the Beer-Sheva region, where heavy industry and chemical industries are concentrated, no monitoring system exists. Monitoring of vehicular pollutants in city centers and in densely populated areas is not undertaken continuously, but rather sporadically, by means of a number of permanent stations and a few mobile stations. Under these circumstances, the Ministry of the Environment does not have comprehensive data on air quality in all parts of the country. The Ministry of the Environment should examine the need for a nationwide monitoring system which will ensure measurements of air quality in the different areas of the country."

    In the past, funding for monitoring stations has originated in sources outside the ministry. Provision for a monitoring system in Hadera and Ashkelon was incorporated within the framework of the government decision to establish these power plants; citizen pressure led to the allocation of a monitoring network by the energy sector in Haifa and Ashdod; and the chemical and heavy industries themselves allocated the funds for Israel's most recent monitoring network, soon to become operational, in the Ramat Hovav area in the south of the country.

    While the critical problems of the 1970s and 1980s revolved around sulfur dioxide pollution in the environs of power plants, today's air quality is largely impacted by the dramatic increase in motor vehicles, a fourfold increase over the past two decades. Vehicular air pollution may be divided into two types: nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the vicinity of major traffic arteries and intersections and photochemical smog in areas which may be dozens of kilometers away from vehicular pollution sources. This new reality requires the expansion of Israel's monitoring system, both in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and in the center of the country. Moreover, a national control center for data storage and analysis is sorely needed, for education and information purposes and for the development of long-term strategies for pollution prevention. This year, for the first time, the Ministry of the Environment has requested an allocation of several million shekels to cover the establishment of a nationwide monitoring system and a national data storage and analysis center.

    Air Pollutant Emissions

    In 1988, the Ministry of the Environment, at the request of the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), prepared a national estimate of quantities of air pollutants emitted into the atmosphere as a result of fuel combustion. These data have been included in the Statistical Abstract of the CBS ever since.

    Following are the annual quantities of the pollutants emitted into the air in 1991, in comparison to 1980:

    Pollutant                Quantities emitted (tons)
                             1980           1991
    sulfur oxides            308,000        264,000
    carbon monoxide          284,000        523,000
    nitrogen oxides           79,000        154,000
    hydrocarbons              34,000        64,000
    dust particles            26,000        27,000
    lead                         400           300

    The data show a clear decrease in sulfur oxide emissions between 1980 and 1991, largely as a result of the partial shift in electricity generation from high sulfur residual oil to relatively low-sulfur coal, and from the general reduction in the heavy sulfur content of the heavy residual oil from 3.5% in 1980 to 2.5% in 1991. The decrease in the quantity of lead emitted to the air is due to the adoption of a maximum permissible level of lead content in gasoline of 0.15 grams/liter, down from 42 grams/liter. The significant increases in the emission of other pollutants are directly attributed to increased gasoline and diesel consumption. A rise in the quantity of lead emitted to the air in 1990, in comparison to 1989, is also a result of the increased number of vehicles on Israel's roads.

    Emission Standards

    Thus far, emission standards have been established within the framework of personal decrees under the Abatement of Nuisances Law for about 20 industrial plants. For other plants, special conditions, based on emission standards issued by the Federal Government of Germany, were set within the framework of business licensing.

    At present, the Ministry of the Environment has begun to prepare regulations setting emission standards for the following pollutants: particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOC), nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. These emission standards, based on the German regulations (1986 TA-LUFT), will hopefully be completed by the end of 1993.

    In response to the Comptroller's allegation that "the ministry has not set minimal requirements obligating industrial plants to install air pollution prevention devices," it is the ministry's contention that the promulgation of emission standards should, in itself, be seen as a requirement to install air pollution abatement facilities. Several recent developments bear this out: the installation of a $10 million filter in the Nesher Har Tuv cement plant; a decision by the Israel Electric Corporation to install wet scrubbers in its Haifa and Ashdod power plants, at a cost of over $150 million; and the recent installation of a sulfur dioxide scrubber in the Delta plant in Karmiel, at a cost of about $150,000.

    Health Monitoring

    Research studies and surveys, carried out in the 1970s and 1980s in Israel and worldwide, have revealed a link between air pollution and respiratory diseases, especially bronchitis, asthma, emphysema and lung cancer. Epidemiological surveys and health monitoring carried out in such areas as Hadera, Ashkelon and Ashdod indeed indicate a lower health status among population groups in polluted areas in comparison to comparable groups living in environmentally- clean areas. In view of the findings, the researchers have called for immediate steps to improve air quality in polluted areas and for additional epidemiological surveys in other polluted areas.

    Yet, despite these recommendations, epidemiological studies have slowed down considerably in recent years. While some new studies were undertaken recently in the Tel Aviv area and among schoolchildren in Beit Shemesh (where residents are plagued by pollution originating from the Nesher cement plant), better cooperation between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Health is required. The relative absence of new epidemiological surveys, points out the State Comptroller, "hampers the possibility of arriving at decisions on minimizing health damages."

    Air Quality in the Haifa Area

    The city of Haifa has long been branded Israel's most polluted city. The Haifa Bay area houses over 2,000 industrial plants, among them some of the country's major sources of pollution: the power plant and oil refineries. Over the past several years, government authorities, local bodies and citizen groups have staged a major battle to stem the tide of pollution plaguing the citycalling upon the polluters to undertake all necessary technological measures to reduce pollution. The economic cost has been cited time and again by the major polluters as the key factor precluding the installation of costly pollution-abatement equipment.

    In 1985, the Natural Resource and Environmental Research Center in Haifa University, with the collaboration of other bodies, initiated an interdisciplinary three-year survey designed to assess the economic costs of air pollution in Haifa. The project strove to establish the economic value of health damages, on the national economy level, so as to establish priorities in allocating limited financial resources.

    The survey, entitled "The Benefits of Morbidity Reduction from Air Pollution Control," encompassed 3,500 households, from neighborhoods which had been stratified by pollution exposure levels and socio-economic status. It assessed the direct and indirect costs of disease, and especially, medical expenditure, loss of production due to absence from work and suffering and discomfort caused to patients. The conclusionthe rate of disease of both adults and children in those areas in which air pollution is high is significantly higher than its rate in environmentally- clean areas. Moreover, "there is an economic justification for investments at a rate of tens of millions of shekels in installation of equipment for the reduction of pollution in the Haifa area."

    The Harrari Report and the Fuel Economy

    In 1989, Prof. Haim Harrari, President of the Weizmann Institute of Science, was commissioned to help resolve the differences in opinion between the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Energy on the establishment of air quality standards and the problems of the fuel economy related to them. The report, submitted in February 1990, was adopted by the government in June 1991.

    Several recommendations in the Harrari report have already been implemented including: the adoption of a more stringent ambient standard for sulfur dioxide; an expanded and strengthened intermittent control system and the addition of two levels of alert; reduction of the sulfur content in fuel to 2.5%; establishment of a $700,000 fund (derived from the Electric Corporation and the refineries) and creation of a judiciary committee to review proposals for practical research on the operation of the intermittent control system; amendment of the personal decrees in accordance to the new levels of alert; and, submission of a personal decree to the Reading power plant in Tel Aviv and preparation of an amended decree to the power plants and refineries in Ashdod. The items not yet implemented relate to economic problems including: a proposal to institute a system of fines, whereby fines will grow steeply with each additional violation, further reduction of the sulfur content in fuel to 2%, and a comprehensive review of the direct and indirect costs of sulfur dioxide pollution to the national economy.

    The Electric Corporation has opted to install scrubbers in its oil- powered power plants in lieu of switching to continuous use of very low-sulfur fuel (0.5-1%). Furthermore, despite its contention that a further reduction in the sulfur content of fuel would be both costly and difficult, the Ministry of Energy has decided to reduce Israel's import of high-sulfur crude oil, to seek new sources of low-sulfur oil and to switch to the continuous use of fuel whose sulfur content will not exceed 2%. Furthermore, in the Tel Aviv area, the Reading Power Plant will double its use of low-sulfur fuel (1%) in accordance to the terms of a personal decree. The decree will require the power plant to use low-sulfur fuel, 14- hours a day, throughout the year (rather than during six months as was previously the case).

    Air Pollution from Vehicular Sources

    Urban traffic constitutes a major and ever-growing menace to air quality in Israel. Growing numbers of vehicles in urban areas slow down vehicle flow and induce traffic jamscausing increasing quantities of pollutants to become trapped near the ground, endangering human health and environmental quality.

    According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, some 983,744 vehicles transversed Israel's roads in 1989, 1,015,404 in 1990 and 1,075,449 in 1991of which 90% were gasoline and the rest diesel- powered (buses, trucks, taxis and commercial vehicles). Vehicle density rose from 34 cars per thousand in 1954 to over 200 in the beginning of 1992. It is estimated that by the year 2000 the number of cars in Israel will reach 2 million.

    The causes of vehicular air pollution are usually attributed to the age of the vehicle, the maintenance level, driving practices, fuel quality and faulty law enforcement.

    Vehicle maintenance is checked once a year, during the annual registration test. Within this framework, vehicular emissions are tested in accordance to standards set in the Abatement of Nuisance Regulations. The law empowers authorized examiners of the Ministry of Transport, in coordination with the police, to conduct spot checks of vehicles and to remove polluting vehicles from the road until such time as emissions are reduced. In practice, however, only a small number of cars (0.8%) are stopped. According to police data, fine notices for air pollution offenses were issued to 1,580 drivers in 1990, to 996 drivers in 1991 and to 608 drivers in the first eight months of 1992. The main reasons for the dearth of road checks, according to the Ministry of Transport, are shortage of manpower and lack of patrol cars with the necessary measuring equipment.

    The Ministry of the Environment, empowered by the Public Health Regulations on vehicular pollution to check motor vehicles as well, complains of a similar problem. Only one staff member, provided with one car stocked with carbon monoxide measuring equipment, deals with the prevention of smoke and pollution from cars. Consequently, the number of tests was quite small: 755 diesel vehicles were checked in 1990 (707 were issued tickets, 46 got off with warnings and two were taken off the road); 1,088 vehicles were checked in 1991 (756 ticketed, 337 warned). Limited funds preclude the possibility of a larger scope of checks at the present time.

    To help facilitate solutions to the problem of vehicular emissions, the director general of the Environment Ministry appointed an interministerial committee in April 1990 to propose specific recommendations. The committee discussed such possibilities as the promulgation of new regulations stipulating a uniform measurement method, the marketing of improved gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon pollution, the marketing of lower sulfur diesel fuel (0.05% rather than 0.4%), preparation of a technological and economic feasibility study on installation of catalytic converters in existing vehicles, and encouragement of the public to use mass transportation.

    While the committee did not yet present its conclusions, it did prepare draft regulations on the prevention of vehicular emissions which will enable the ministry and the police to better deal with the problem of emissions (both black smoke and carbon monoxide). Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport has signed regulations obliging the import of vehicles equipped with catalytic converters, beginning with September 1993 (1994 models).

    The Ministry of the Environment estimates that by the year 2000, some 50% of Israel's motor vehicle fleet will be equipped with catalytic converters and by 2025 the entire fleet will be so equipped. Since vehicles equipped with catalytic converters emit only a tenth of the pollution discharged from regular vehicles, the increased presence of these cars in Israel's vehicle fleet should bring about a real reduction in motor vehicle emissions. Furthermore, since such vehicles require lead-free gas (less than 0.013 grams per liter), the consumption of "green fuel" should rise as well. In the meantime, the Comptroller contends that the difference in cost between low-lead and regular gasoline is too small to serve as an incentive for purchase. This issue is currently being discussed by the relevant ministries.


    The State Comptroller's conclusions are not at odds with those of the Ministry of the Environment; each is concerned with improving air quality in Israel: "Improving air quality and reducing pollutant levels constitute goals which have prominent importance in ensuring public health and environmental quality in general. The activities which must be undertaken to achieve these aims including expensive technological solutionsrequire considerable expenditures which will impose a heavy burden on businesses and on the national economy. However, not dealing with these issues, or delaying implementation, may in the course of time only increase the burden due to the damages that aggravated air pollution can cause to individuals and to the economy: increased incidence of chronic, respiratory and other illnesses; surging medical expenses and hospitalization; increased loss of work days; and physical damage to property and the environment.

    Under these circumstances, the ideal solution is to find just the right balance, which will take into account, on the one hand, the costs involved in improving air quality, and on the other hand, the costs involved in delaying the implementation of solutions and the resulting damages. A partial solution may be the preparation of a multi-annual program, whose implementation will begin at once, but will stretch out over several years."

    The Ministry of the Environment is determined to do just that.

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