ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH

The importance of sound environmental research is widely acknowledged. In Israel, environmental research is an imperative. If sustainable development is to be assured, methods must be developed to protect vital water sources, to safely recycle wastewater, to grow pesticide-free agricultural produce, to safely dispose of solid and hazardous waste, and to control air pollution in densely-populated areas. The main trend in Israel today is for government bodies to channel funds to non-governmental institutions, especially universities, for environmental research, and indeed, environmental research is highly developed in Israel’s academic institutions.

National environmental research is coordinated by the Ministry of the Environment through the Office of the Chief Scientist. A program for the advancement of environmental research and surveys has been prepared to facilitate decision making and advance professional activities. In recent years, the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of the Environment has accorded high priority to surveys on water quality, improved sewage treatment methods, investigations of the hydrology of the Ramat Hovav hazardous substances site, rehabilitation efforts in the Carmel Park following a major forest fire in 1989, pretreatment of effluents from the Ramat Hovav industrial area, research on allergens, studies on effluent irrigation and organization of steering committees on cleanup and rehabilitation requirements for the Kishon and Alexander rivers.

While hundreds of research proposals have been submitted to the ministry in recent years, budgetary constraints have severely restricted the number of projects able to receive ministry support. In 1993, twenty-two 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.

Following are the research projects approved in 1993:

Solid waste treatment, disposal and recycling:

* A pioneer study on separation at source into wet and dry waste in the Kfar Sava-Ra’anana area, with the wet stream designated for compostation and the dry for classification and recycling.

* A research project on the agricultural use of compost at Kibbutz Nahal Oz in the south of Israel. The combination of loess soil, saline water and a good agricultural infrastructure in this Negev kibbutz should provide essential information on the possibilities of recycling about half of Israel’s solid waste as compost for agricultural use.

* Analysis of alternative methods of municipal solid waste recycling; characterization and treatment of leachate from solid waste disposal sites and transfer stations; and recycling of plastic materials used for packaging (Technion).

Water quality:

* The effect of environmental conditions in Lake Kinneret on the survival of indicator bacteria for fecal coliforms (Yigal Allon Kinneret Limnological Laboratory and Tel Aviv University).

* Use of combined drainage and rain water for the irrigation of greenhouse crops (Agricultural Research Organization).

* Use of municipal sludge for improving productivity of desert soils (Ben Gurion University).

* Constructed wetlands as a means of river rehabilitation: Evaluation of two types of constructed wetlands (subsurface flow and free water surface) for restoring the Alexander River and as a buffer system between the river and the wastewater treatment plant (Technion).

* Economic aspects of groundwater pollution. The aim of the research is to quantify in economic terms the scope of damage to Israel’s subsurface water sources by pollution and to examine the relative efficacy of alternative policy tools in protecting groundwater quality, including economic disincentives such as pollution taxes and liability insurance (Haifa University).

Marine pollution:

* Characterization of pollutants in the coastal waters of Israel by spectrometric methods and remote sensing (Ben Gurion University, Desert Research Institute).

* The use of seaweed and demersal fish to reduce waste products released from the commercial fish cage culture in the Gulf of Eilat. Efforts focus on the reduction of particulate organic and inorganic matter which settle on the seabed and on dissolved nutrients which are dispersed into the surrounding water column (Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, National Center for Mariculture).

* Feeding biology of the nomadic jellyfish and its contribution to the massive bloom of this macro-plankton in the Eastern Mediterranean. A stinging jellyfish, identified as Rhopilema nomadica, has appeared in the coastal waters of the southeastern Mediterranean over the last eight years in large sizes and quantities, causing major disturbances to swimmers, fishermen and boats. Despite studies on the biology of this species, the question of how such a large bloom of jellyfish manages to find food in the ligotrophic waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, an environment considered low in micro- plankton, has remained open. To answer the question, information on the diet and feeding behavior of this jellyfish is being obtained by various means. The results should clarify the food sources of the nomadic jellyfish, and enhance understanding of how they survive in such massive blooms essential information for solving the problem (University of Haifa, Center for Maritime Studies)

Environmental planning and noise abatement:

* The spatial pattern of environmental conflicts in the metropolitan development process and the resultant planning implications. The study, which focuses on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, will suggest an approach for addressing such conflicts by identifying cases in which pollution sources should be relocated, and cases in which in-situ management solution should be found.(Department of Geography, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

* Calibration of the traffic noise forecast model in order to check the applicability of the model to traffic noise conditions in Israel and to introduce correction factors (Tevet).

* Environmental changes in the Dan district a study by remote sensing methods. The main objectives of the survey are to demonstrate the potential use of remote sensing images for the creation of an environmental digital database which can be used for change detection, monitoring and urban planning; and to create a comparative environmental database in the Dan region which will include: various land uses, "green lungs", distribution of thermal anomalies above industrial plants and open spaces, land-sea relationships, air and sea pollution, etc. (Kaplan Navot).

Pest control:

* Development of a method for hornet (Vespa orientalis F.) control with poison baits. This study aims at developing combinations of selective, environmentally-acceptable insecticides (such as micro-encapsulated formulations or insect growth regulators) and suitable baits for the control of hornets (Ben Gurion University).

* The epidemiology of visceral leishmaniasis and the potential for human disease. Visceral leishmaniasis (Kala-azar) is endemic in the Galilee and several cases are reported each year. The study will help broaden knowledge concerning human exposure to the parasite, prevalence in reservoir hosts and identity of the sandfly vector in northern Israel (Carmel Medical Center, Haifa).

Coordination of Additional Funds

The Chief Scientist is also responsible for the coordination of a number of research funds set up to solve specific environmental problems. One such fund was set up in the wake of a government decision on air quality standards and the fuel economy. Inter alia, the government decision called for the establishment of an air quality research fund and for the creation of a judiciary committee to review proposals for practical research on the operation of intermittent control systems.

An annual $700,000 fund (financed temporarily by the Electric Corporation and the oil refineries) was set up and a number of research studies have been implemented, as follows:

* Alert system for sensitive air pollution periods: A system for short term forecast and alert for high pollution episodes in the Haifa area was developed at the Center for Advanced Solutions of IBM Science and Technology. The alert is based on the processing of data from monitoring stations collected by the system in real-time. Simulated tests on a historical database show that the system can significantly improve the reliability of the intermittent control system in Haifa.

* High-resolution coastal sea-breeze front structure in relation to air pollution: The project studied the structure and evolution of the sea breeze front penetration to the Ashdod- Ashkelon coastal plane. Better prediction of the time of the sea breeze front penetration to the coastal plane will be included in the intermittent control system in the area.

* Dispersion model for the Haifa Bay area: In order to study pollutant dispersion, a three-dimensional numerical air quality model was adopted. The model is based on integrating two existing submodels: a mesoscale submodel and a dispersion and transport submodel.

* Economic cost-benefit analyses of alternative policy scenarios for reducing air pollution levels in the Haifa Bay area: Studies carried out in recent years at the Natural Resources and Environmental Research Center of Haifa University have made it possible to carry out an economic analysis capable of indicating, with a satisfactory degree of reasonableness, the desirable pollution reduction levels in the metropolitan Haifa region. The research will arrive at these levels under alternative assumptions and scenarios.

* Measurement of solar ultraviolet radiation levels (UV) in the coastal areas of Israel with special attention to the meteorological and environmental factors in the Tel Aviv area. UV radiation levels from the sun on a horizontal plane will be measured in this area on a continuous basis in order to set up a database on the biological effect of radiation. Data regarding air pollution indices and local meteorological conditions will be correlated with the measured data, in order to clarify the relationship between them.

* Analysis of conditions leading to high SO2 concentrations in the Ashdod area: Monitoring results in Ashdod already reveal that high concentrations of SO2, occurring during a few time periods, may be specifically defined by a small number of parameters. This database will be expanded in order to broaden analysis so that it will be possible to pinpoint the conditions leading to high concentrations.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Energy, the Israel Electric Corporation and the Coal Company, a joint administration for advancing economic and environmental solutions to the growing quantities of coal ash has been established. The Chief Scientist of the Ministry of the Environment has prepared a document which should help solve the problem within a period of two to five years.

The ministry is cooperating with the Dead Sea Works Ltd. in a special fund targeted at examining the possibility of replacing sodium with potassium in an effort to reduce the salinity of the wastewater stream in Israel. It is well-recognized today that one of the major sources for the increase in Na (sodium) concentrations in sewage is the use of sodium salts (mainly NaCl) for water softening in various industries. Various research studies are being carried out on the reduction of soil sodicity hazards by replacing sodium with potassium in wastewater, on the potential changes in groundwater and soil composition as a result of replacement of salt by potassium, and on soil properties and crop yield in plots of land irrigated by potassium-enriched effluent.

Epidemiological Surveys

The Ministry of the Environment conducts epidemiological health surveys to check the impact of air pollution on the health of the population. Based on the results obtained from pulmonary function tests and health questionnaires, a trend of higher prevalence of most reported respiratory symptoms was found in populations, mostly schoolchildren, growing up in highly polluted areas in comparison to children living in low pollution areas. Following is a synopsis of the surveys undertaken thus far:

* Statistical analysis of a health monitoring project in the environs of the Hadera power plant which was carried out between 1980 and 1991. Analysis related to mortality and morbidity data and to follow-ups of patients with chronic respiratory diseases. (Financed by the Ministry of Health).

* Compilation of data on health monitoring in the environs of the Ashkelon power station, including mortality data, visits to health clinics and emergency rooms, and seasonal follow-up of children suffering from chronic respiratory disease. (Financed by the Ministry of Health).

* Compilation of data and statistical analysis of a comparative health survey carried out among children in the Yavne area (polluted area) and Nahal Soreq (low-pollution area) in 1992. The results were summarized and reported. (Financed by the Ashdod-Yavne Association of Towns for Environmental Quality).

* Completion of the collection of health data on adults living in a "low-pollution area" for purposes of comparison with adults living in the Yavne area. (Financed by the Ashdod-Yavne Town Association for Environmental Quality).

* Analysis of health and environmental data collected among second to sixth graders (about 3000 students) studying in Tel Aviv schools, situated in different areas in relation to sources and levels of air pollution. The survey will examine possible changes in the children’s health vis a vis air quality levels in their area of residence and in relation to other environmental parameters. (Financed by the Tel Aviv municipality and the Israel Electric Corporation).

* Collection and classification of data (by age, sex, reason of arrival and place of residence) on visits to emergency rooms by children residing in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Air quality and meteorological data in different areas of the city are studied concurrently. (Financed by the municipality of Tel Aviv and the Israel Electric Corporation).

* Initiation of an epidemiological survey among schoolchildren in Beit Shemesh residing in areas exposed to different degrees of particulate pollution emitted from the Nesher cement plant. The epidemiological survey will be accompanied by environmental surveys. (Financed by the Ministry of the Environment and the Beit Shemesh municipality).

* Plans for epidemiological surveys around pollution sources in the Petah Tikvah and Bnei Brak industrial areas and in the environs of one of the oil-powered plants in Ashdod or Haifa. The aim of the surveys is to use health parameters as tools for the assessment of the economic cost of air pollution and the feasibility of installing pollution-prevention devices. (Financed by the Harrari Committee on air pollution).

Air Pollution Research

The Ministry of the Environment is also active in monitoring and studying air pollutants in various sensitive areas. Within this framework, the following studies have been conducted:

* Monitoring of asbestos fibers in the environs of the "Eitanit" plant in Nahariya (which produces asbestos cement), both within the city and in the quarry, and monitoring for the presence of asbestos fibers in educational institutions and plants.

* Monitoring of pollen counts in Ramat Gan, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba, in cooperation with the Botany Laboratory of Tel Aviv University. A pollen monitoring center was set up by the Ministry of the Environment and Tel Aviv University in order to measure the pollen count in various parts of the country, at various times of the year; to correlate the data with allergy attacks and floral development; and to determine pollen concentrations in each area. Since the genetic potential for allergies exists in 30% of the population, it is estimated that some 8%-15% of the population suffers from pollen-related allergies.

* Contribution of basalt and limestone quarries to environmental pollution and means of preventing dust emissions.

* Distribution and identification of coal dust in the air.

* Sulfate aerosolscharacteristic, concentrations, formation in the atmosphere and paths of transport to Israel.

* The features of acid rain in the Carmel region, in cooperation with the Seagram Center for Soil and Water Research in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The study found acid rain to be more common than expected. Acidity of the wetfall appears to be imported from Central or Eastern Europe, via the Mediterranean Sea, as suggested by back-trajectories of 26 rain events.

* The contribution of sulfates and mineral desert particles to the acidity of clouds and rain in Israel, in cooperation with the Geophysics Department of Tel Aviv University.

* Determining the acidity and chemical composition of fog, haze and cloud droplets in Israel.

* The amount, nature and effect of the aerosol deposition on Lake Kinnereta joint Germany-Israel research project with the Geological Survey and the Technion.

* The chemical, mineralogical and physical characteristics of both ambient aerosols and settling particles transported into Israel following dust storms originating in the desert regions. The results are used to calculate background values which can be used as a reference standard. This standard may then be used to assess the contribution of the desert aerosol to the environment as well as to identify pollution effects in both settling particles and the ambient aerosol.

* Methods of detecting individual particles emitted from vehicles, stacks, cement plants, etc.

* Extreme airborne asbestos concentrations in a public buildings. The survey showed that very high exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can occur in public buildings. The concentrations were measured in the air of a communal dining room in which the damaged ceiling had a sprayed-on coating of insulation containing asbestos.