National environmental research is coordinated by the Ministry of the Environment through the Office of the Chief Scientist. In recent years, high priority has been accorded to surveys on water quality, sewage treatment, hydrology of the Ramat Hovav hazardous waste site, allergens, effluent irrigation and river rehabilitation. The trend today is for government bodies to channel funds to non-governmental institutions, especially universities, for environmental research.
While hundreds of research proposals have been submitted to the ministry in recent years, budgetary constraints have restricted the number of projects able to receive ministry support. In 1993, 22 projects were approved in such areas as pest control, solid waste management, marine pollution prevention, environmental planning, agro-ecology, water quality, recycling and river rehabilitation.
The chief scientist of the Ministry of the Environment is also responsible for coordinating the Harrari Committee on Air Pollution, set up, inter alia, to promote practical research on the operation of intermittent control systems. Other research aims at finding solutions to the growing quantities of coal ash and examining the possibility of replacing sodium with potassium in an effort to reduce the salinity of the wastewater stream in Israel.
The Ministry of the Environment conducts epidemiological health surveys to check the impact of air pollution on the health of the population. In most investigated cases, a higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms was found in children growing up in highly polluted areas in comparison to children living in low pollution areas. Health monitoring has been undertaken in the environs of Israel’s power plants and in the Tel Aviv and Beit Shemesh areas.
The Ministry of the Environment also monitors and studies air pollutants in sensitive areas throughout the country. Studies include monitoring of asbestos fibers, monitoring of pollen counts, characteristics of sulfate aerosols, features of acid rain in the Carmel region, aerosol deposition in Lake Kinneret, etc.
The bulk of Israel’s environmental research is undertaken by Israel’s universities: Bar-Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Haifa University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University, and Weizmann Institute of Science.
The Ministry of the Environment operates one of Israel’s major laboratories for pollutant monitoring. The laboratory aids the Ministry of the Environment and local environmental units in identifying pollutants in the environs of industrial areas and other sources of pollution. One of the major functions of the laboratory is to serve as a national reference laboratory for quality assurance and control. It supervises environmental tests undertaken in public, private and industrial laboratories to make sure that tests are conducted in accordance with standardized methods and that results are valid, and it provides calibration services to the Ministry of the Environment in the realms of air quality and hazardous substances.
Analytical tests are undertaken for airborne dust, components of combustion gases, industrial emissions, emissions released during hazardous substances incidents, pesticides, toxic metals, carcinogens, and algae and oil spills at sea.
The economic approach to environmental policy seeks to internalize environmental costs and considerations into corporate decisions. In Israel, economic mechanisms to implement environmental policy largely take the form of levies (paid by polluters for the use of environmental resources). These include user fees covering sewage and garbage collection, product taxes covering quarries, marine pollution prevention and disposable beverage containers, and administrative levies (e.g. a monitoring fee imposed on industrial facilities which emit pollutants into the air).
The use of subsidies is less well known. The possibility of granting financial aid to companies for the purchase of green technologies and for the establishment of eco-auditing in small and medium-sized companies is being considered. An interdisciplinary committee is preparing criteria for financial support to industrial plants wishing to invest in environmental technology.
The Standards Institute of Israel has published a new standard for environmental management systems in February 1994. It is applicable to any organization which wishes to assure itself of compliance with a stated environmental policy and to demonstrate such compliance to others and requires organizations to formulate policies and objectives taking into account information about significant environmental impacts. Israel’s new standard is largely based on the British Standard for Environmental Management Systems.