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New hope for Haifa

27/09/2016

Plans to expand Haifa’s worst industrial polluter, Israel Oil Refineries (“Bazan”), have been suspended. Haifa, Israel’s third largest city and home to a mixed population of 500,000 people, has been recognized as the country’s pollution hotspot for decades.

Sick of breathing in toxic cocktails of filthy air, Israelis have taken to the streets to stand up for Haifa’s right to clean air. The widely covered national outcry matched with legal, scientific and planning advocacy by Adam Teva V’Din convinced Israel’s National Planning and Building Council to suspend plans to expand Bazan’s petrochemical complex, giving vulnerable communities in Haifa hope for a new era of environmental protection.


A THRIVING CITY SHADOWED BY POLLUTION

The sister city of Boston and San Francisco, Haifa and its suburbs are home to a mixed population of over 500,000 people. Nestled in the hills on Israel’s northern coast, the city also boasts the country’s most prestigious university, the Technion Institute, often called Israel’s MIT, and in the surrounding area, technology giants including Google, Microsoft and Intel, have established research and development centers to tap top Israeli talent.

Yet this port city, where for generations new immigrants first disembarked, has in recent years become engulfed in a cloud of toxins. Haifa Bay, rife with industry, is Israel’s most polluted area and, for over a decade, Adam Teva V’Din’s multi-disciplinary experts have been demanding improved air quality safeguards to protect the health of Haifa residents.


ISRAELIS STAND UP FOR THEIR RIGHT TO CLEAN AIR

 


But instead of taking measures to reduce pollution in Haifa Bay, planning authorities approved plans to expand the petrochemical complex in the heart of the densely populated city. After Adam Teva V’Din’s concerns, as well as those of public health experts, local residents and the Mayor of Haifa, were ignored in the planning process, Adam Teva V’Din prepared to take legal action against the expansion and the process by which the plans were approved.

 

Leehee Goldenberg, Adam Teva V’Din attorney who wrote the petition, explains how Bazan was effectively “given carte blanche. Officially, Bazan requested to expand their facilities by 20 percent, but the plans don’t indicate where the proposed 20 percent expansion will occur. Ultimately it’s unclear from the submitted plans whether Bazan is intending to build a lunchroom or a hazardous petrochemical unit. In addition, the plans were approved without any reference to a pending government program to improve air quality for half a million Israelis”.

Hours before we were due to file our petition, the National Planning & Building Council convened an extraordinary meeting and, in an unprecedented decision, called for an additional review of the plans which take into consideration environmental and public health risks. All building permits have been withheld until further notice.


NEW ERA OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

 


 

This is an important victory in the ongoing struggle to improve environmental and health conditions for Haifa families,” said Amit Bracha Adv., Executive Director of Adam Teva V’Din. “As authors of Israel’s Clean Air Law, we welcome the decision of the National Planning Council whose members adopted our opinion that such a fateful decision, with far-reaching repercussions on the local population, needs to be examined with a fine tooth comb. This is a significant achievement because such a back-down is unheard of at this level”.

Awaiting the review of the plans, we have agreed with our partner NGOs, the Green Course and the Haifa-based Coalition for Environment & Health, to hold off on filing our lawsuit until the National Planning & Building Council clarifies its next step. As the national environmental watchdog, we will remain vigilant to ensure that crucial protections are upheld to protect the environment and public health.

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