​Joint Statement by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environmental Protection: The Minister of Health and the Minister of Environmental Protection accepted the recommendation of the Scientific Committee accompanying the study of the epidemiological monitoring of the Haifa Bay not to continue the study – also on the subject of assessing air pollution exposure and neonatal growth indices

 

In August 2016, the Ministers accepted the recommendation of the Scientific Committee to discontinue the implementation of three modules in the study dealing with the risk of developing cancer, child asthma and asthma for designated to the security service purposes, since, according to the Committee’s recommendations, research methods and results cannot be the basis for assessing the relationship between air pollution levels in the Haifa Bay region and morbidity in the region. • After receiving the researchers’ reference to air quality monitoring modules, neonatal growth indices and biological monitoring, the only module recommended by the committee to continue with is the biological monitoring. • The Environmental Protection Ministry will publish a new public appeal in support of researches on these topics

The Ministers of Health and Environmental Protection – MK Yaakov Litzman and MK Zeev Elkin – accepted the recommendations of the scientific committee accompanying the study of epidemiological monitoring of the Haifa Bay region from 2015 to 2020 headed by Prof. Sigal Sadezky – Chairman of the Scientific Committee.
The Scientific Committee accompanying the study of the epidemiological monitoring of the Haifa Bay recommended to the Ministers of Environmental Protection and Health on August 3, 2016, the cessation of the implementation of three modules in the study examining the relationship between air pollution in the Gulf and the development of cancer, child asthma and asthma for designated to the security service purposes, as well as for corrections to the three other modules: exposure assessment for air pollutants, biological monitoring and the relationship between exposure and neonatal health.

In the past few months, since August 2016, the researchers’ response to the Committee’s comments has been accepted, and committee members have considered proposals and responses to improve the exposure module, neonatal growth indices and biological monitoring.
 
After considering various ways of continuing research in the modules, the Scientific Committee gave the following recommendations to the Ministers:

  • Accept the researchers’ corrections to the biological monitoring module and continue the study of this module.
  • To receive the researchers’ corrections in the module that examines the state of the newborn’s health and to condition the continuation of the research in this module by placing an expert in the field of air quality and receiving comments on the Committee’s comments regarding the exposure model.

Since the research team did not include an expert and when the Committee’s comments on the methods in the exposure module were not included, the committee recommended not to proceed with the air pollution exposure module and the neonatal growth index. Namely to continue only in the biological monitoring module.

Due to the unequivocal recommendations of the committee, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the Ministry of Health, has prepared a new public appeal for support for new research on these issues.

It should be noted that before the committee’s eyes, the interest of Haifa Bay residents was to know the true picture of the situation: if there is a connection between air pollution and the health of the population. The aim of the study was to investigate the relationship between environmental pollution in the Haifa Bay and the health of the residents in the area, and it included six sub-topics: the incidence of lung cancer and lymphoma non-Hodgkin; Neonatal health; Asthma among children; Asthma monitoring among IDF recruits, biological monitoring of the impact of air pollution and monitoring of air quality, and it is important to note that without a valid assessment of exposure to air pollutants, it is not possible to evaluate any of the health outcomes specified.

In August 2016, the Committee unanimously deem that the research methods presented at the end of the first year of the study did not constitute an established research infrastructure. Therefore, the findings obtained thus far cannot be considered and cannot serve as a basis for assessing morbidity and the link between air pollution and morbidity In the Haifa Bay area. The committee members argued that the study is fraught with significant methodological problems, which raise doubts as to the reliability and validity of the methods used by the researchers and hence also to the validity and significance of the results presented.
 
These are the committee’s reasons, after examining the researchers’ reactions to the air quality monitoring module (assessment of exposure to air pollutants in the region):

  • Lack of air quality expert: A study examining the relationship between exposure to air pollutants and morbidity must be done with active participation of an air quality expert.
  • Incompatibility of the proposed method by the researchers:
    • The researchers suggest that the exposure assessment should be carried out by means of spatial interpolation of monitoring station data in each calendar trimester term for 4 air pollutants and this as an alternative to using a numerical model for dispersion and transport of pollutants.
    • The Committee believes that the proposed method has several drawbacks:
  • For a complex area such as the Haifa Bay (both in terms of sources of pollution and in terms of local topography and meteorology derived from these diverse areas), interpolation methods alone cannot provide a value estimate of the exposure to air pollutants.
  • The limitations of the interpolation products for a real assessment of exposure to pollutants in the Haifa Bay, as noted above, are more pronounced with respect to pollutants measured in individual monitoring stations such as volatile organic compounds. Due to the paucity of measurements and literary information about the serious health effects of this group of pollutants, there is a need to estimate the exposure by more reliable means, using models for dispersion and transportation in the atmosphere.
  • Since for each trimester newborn is measured according to the date of birth, an estimate of the exposure according to the trimester as suggested by the researchers will blur the estimate of individual exposure to each child‎. A preferred and appropriate method is the production of exposure maps calculated for ‎shorter periods corresponding to fetal development, a more adapted and more precise calculation of the exposure according to the individual birth date of each child.

This is a professional committee from various fields of scientific expertise relevant to the study, Headed by Prof. Sigal Sadezky, Director of the Epidemiology Unit of Cancer and Radiation, Gertner Institute, Sheba Hospital.

Members of the Committee: Prof. Emeritus Uri Dayan, Department of Geography, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Dr. Ilan Levy, Center for Air Quality Models, Division of Air Quality and Climate Change, Ministry of Environmental Protection; Prof. Liat Lerner Geva, Director, Women’s and Child Health Research Unit, Gertner Institute; Prof. Ronit Nirel, Department of Statistics, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr. Sinaia Netanyahu, Chief Scientist, Ministry of Environmental Protection; Dr. Isabella Karkis, Director, Department of Environmental Epidemiology, Ministry of Health; Prof. Tami Shohat, Director, Israel Center for Disease Control, Ministry of Health; Ms. Nurit Storch, Deputy Director of the District Administration and Environmental Planner, Ministry of the Environment.