HEALTH: Health Problems


Copper Serpent, biblical symbol of healing, gnawing at the dragon of death. Wall mosaic by Lev Syrkin-Technion Faculty of Medicine in Haifa (With permission of the artist)



Environmental and health hazards have been generated by rapid population growth and steady expansion of agricultural and industrial activities. More than 70 percent of Israel’s industry is concentrated along the narrow coastal zone where meteorological conditions are unfavorable for the dispersal of pollutants. To combat pollution of the Mediterranean and Red Sea coastlines, Israel has adopted a multifaceted program of legislation, enforcement, beach and shore clean-up and international activities, primarily within the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan.

Under conditions of water scarcity and intensive development, the degradation of water quality constitutes a critical problem. The main causes of groundwater pollution are chemical fertilizers, pesticides, seawater intrusion and domestic and industrial wastewater. High priority has been given to wastewater treatment to safeguard environmental and public health and to develop an additional water source for agricultural irrigation. A rehabilitation program for polluted streams has been initiated with the aim of transforming them into vital freshwater resources with ecological and recreational value. Water quality in streams is routinely monitored, while the potability of drinking water is strictly supervised.

Factors affecting air quality include energy production, transportation and industry. In response to alarming levels of pollution in highly industrialized urban areas, primarily along the coastal plain, a comprehensive new program for the management of air resources has been launched, which includes instituting emission standards and expanding the national air monitoring system. The use of low-sulfur coal and oil for energy production has helped reduce concentrations of sulfur oxides considerably, but pollutant emissions linked to increased vehicular traffic have risen significantly. New measures, including lead-free gasoline and catalytic converters, should help combat pollution from this source.

Israel faces an increasing solid waste problem resulting from rapid growth in population, industry and consumption. Hundreds of poorly-operated dumps generate health and environmental hazards. To overcome this problem, Israel is implementing a plan to shut down illegal dumps and replace them with a few environmentally-safe landfills, as well as facilitating a shift to low- and non-waste technology, as stipulated in its recently-enacted recycling law.

Safe management of hazardous substances is spelled out in legislation enacted to provide "cradle to grave" administration, including licensing, regulation and supervision over various aspects of their production, use and handling. Enforcement of the legislation and implementation of Israel’s new national contingency plan for dealing with hazardous substances accidents should minimize potential dangers to health and the environment.

In addition to regulatory measures and education as essential components of its environmental policy, Israel now also offers financial grants to companies which invest in monitoring and pollution treatment facilities and in environment-friendly technologies and materials.