Industrial Use of Hazardous Substances
The Hazardous Substances Law, in force since July 1993, provides the Ministry of the Environment with the long-awaited authority for the control of hazardous substances, including licensing, regulation and supervision of the various aspects of their production, use, handling, storage, marketing, import, export and transport. The administrative means for enforcement established by the law include a licensing requirement, in accordance with the Licensing of Businesses Law, for any premise engaged in the sale of hazardous substances, and a poisons permit requirement for any person dealing in toxic substances. Furthermore, authority is granted to the customs office to stop the delivery of imported toxic substances to anyone not holding the proper permit, and restrictions are placed on the sale of toxic substances by manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. The holder of a poisons permit, which must be renewed annually, is required to maintain a toxic substances register in which all sales and purchases of poisons are recorded. The law enables an authorized representative of the Minister of the Environment to enter any premise dealing with hazardous substances, with the exception of pharmacies, for purposes of inspection, investigation or the collection of samples of hazardous substances. This authority provides the Ministry of the Environment with a powerful tool for the control and supervision of hazardous substances.
The Ministry of the Environment is now investing major efforts in preparing the infrastructure for both implementation and enforcement of the law establishment of the permit system, discovery of the facilities requiring a permit, computerization of data and contacts with customs officials and chemical suppliers to ensure that hazardous waste is not delivered to industries which do not maintain the requisite permit. To deal with the task, the ministry’s professional staff, both in the national office and at the district level (where the actual field work is done) has been doubled. It is estimated that some 7,000 businesses are subject to the requirements of poison permits; in the past, within the framework of the Pharmacists Ordinance, only a few hundred permits were issued despite the same requirements.
Still another link in the chain of hazardous substances control was completed with the recent promulgation of Licensing of Businesses Regulations on industrial plants handling hazardous substances. The regulations require owners of industrial plants in which hazardous substances or hazardous wastes are stored, sold, processed or produced
(even when the final product is not in itself hazardous) to undertake all necessary measures to treat these materials according to the best available technology and in accordance with manufacturer directions. Owners of plants which handle hazardous materials, in quantities exceeding those defined in the regulations, are required to prepare a file on the treatment of hazardous substances in cases of accident. Owners are also required to present an annual report to the licensing authority, including, inter alia, full and up-to-date information on the types, quantities and uses of the hazardous substances in their possession. The regulations, which entered into force in February 1994, should go a long way toward improving safety and emergency response capabilities in industrial plants.
Even prior to the passage of the law and the regulations, the ministry’s district offices along with environmental units in local authorities and town associations for environmental quality, worked in accordance with Environment Ministry guidelines both with regard to the discovery of plants dealing with hazardous substances and with regard to instructions on appropriate methods of storage, handling and disposal. In addition, environmental conditions, requiring, inter alia, reports on types and quantities of hazardous substances, storage, monitoring and safety precautions, were imposed on industries by means of the Licensing of Businesses Law. For several new industrial plants, environmental impact statements were required along with programs for environmentally-safe storage, treatment and transport of the hazardous materials.
Today, mammoth efforts are being invested in law enforcement. Some fifty major industrial plants, handling large quantities of hazardous materials, have been identified and targeted for priority treatment. It is expected that ongoing inspection and supervision of these plants will not only improve environmental conditions within these specific sites but will serve as an example to other industries throughout the country.
Pesticides used for agricultural and public health purposes constitute a significant percentage of all chemicals found in Israel. These pesticides are hazardous substances, and proper supervision of their use is imperative.
The registration process for pesticides for agricultural use, under the responsibility of the Plant Protection and Inspection Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, begins with intensive investigation and testing. When toxicological data have been gathered, an advisory committee composed of representatives of several ministries, including the Ministry of the Environment, decides whether or not to approve the product for final registration.
While a comprehensive inspection system of pesticide use in agriculture does not yet exist, progress has been attained in one area. Poison permit requirements, under the Hazardous Substances Law, have greatly enhanced the Ministry of the Environment’s inspection and supervision capabilities in the case of pesticide storehouses.
The registration process for insecticides for the protection of public health is separate from the registration process for the agricultural use of pesticides. As of 1992, every insecticide permit for domestic and public health purposes must be approved by a statutory committee, headed by a representative of the Ministry of the Environment, and including representatives of the Ministries of Health and the Environment. A recently-signed regulation, under the Hazardous Substances Law, transfers authority for registration from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of the Environment.
(Further information on the management of pesticides for agricultural use and insecticides for public health purposes is found in the chapters on Agro-Ecology and Pest Control, respectively).
Materials with Adverse Health Effects
Israeli authorities are increasingly concerned over the long-term health effects of a number of substances. Within the framework of the Ministry of the Environment, a separate division deals with harmful dust, particles and fibers (including supervision of industrial plants handling beryllium and asbestos).
In view of the health hazards associated with exposure to asbestos, measures are being taken to minimize exposure of both workers and the general public to this substance and to monitor concentrations of asbestos fibers in both the workplace and in specific non- occupational environments. The legal aspect of the use of asbestos and other harmful dust is handled by the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Labor and Welfare, within the framework of Regulations on Safety at Work
(Industrial Hygiene and Public Health for Workers and the Public at Large Exposed to Asbestos, Talc and Crystalline Silicon Dioxide). These regulations, which cover the subject from both the occupational and public health aspects, were first issued in 1984 and were subsequently amended in 1985, 1988 and 1990 in light of new developments in medical research and technology. An additional draft amendment, further reducing import levels, was recently prepared.
The regulations set a series of requirements relating to hazardous dust in Israel including establishment of standards and safety procedures, requirements for medical checkups, specification of prohibited and permitted substances, and environmental monitoring obligations. A 1990 amendment to the regulations restricts the quantity of imported asbestos and its byproducts to 5,780 tons a year of crude asbestos and 2,500 tons of products containing asbestos cement; broadens the prohibitions on selling asbestos or asbestos components in such products as flower pots, ornamental products, clutches and brake bands of motor vehicles; and prohibits asbestos textile products. The most recent workplace standards for all kinds of asbestos were set at: 0.4 fibers/cm3 averaged over an eight hour period (TWA) and 2 f/cm3, averaged over a 15 minute period
Within the framework of the law, the ministry is responsible for the work of a technical committee on asbestos and harmful dust, which is charged with updating the regulations. As part of its routine work, the committee prepares criteria for the licensing of contractors and other workers dealing with asbestos; authorizes laboratories and examiners dealing with asbestos testing and monitoring; provides guidelines on the removal and disposal of asbestos waste; responds to queries from the general public on possible risks from asbestos exposure; prepares guidelines for the public on means of dealing with substances and products containing asbestos; and collects data on asbestos, within the framework of the national center for information on asbestos and harmful dust. The committee has established a guideline value of 1,350 fibers/cm3 for ambient exposure to asbestos.
Crude asbestos was introduced into Israel in 1952 when the first and only asbestos cement plant in the country was set up in Nahariya in the north of the country. Monitoring is routinely undertaken in the environs of the plant and thus far, violations have not been recorded. In recent years, special efforts have been invested in locating buildings in which asbestos spraying was used in acoustic walls and ceilings; in risk assessments in schools, kindergartens, plants and other sensitive structures; in removing and disposing of deteriorating asbestos cement; and in providing guidelines on removing and disposing of asbestos-containing insulation material. One of the major projects undertaken in recent years was supervision of the removal of asbestos, applied for acoustic purposes, in the new central bus station in Tel Aviv. In addition, the list of laboratories authorized to test asbestos, talc and crystalline silicon dioxide has been updated, training and study days were organized and quality control testing was initiated to compare test results in different laboratories.
The Ministry of the Environment compiles information from various sources on materials which may adversely affect public health and provides consultation and guidance services to public and private bodies with regard to the long-term impacts of exposure to these materials. The ministry is also an active member of the interministerial committee on carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic materials which identifies substances and chemical processes with long-term health risks. The committee consolidates and updates lists of materials known to be carcinogenic to man and to animals. Recently, it recommended that the use of potassium bromate, a suspected carcinogen, be prohibited as an additive in bread and other baked products.
Transport of Hazardous Substances
The transport of millions of tons of hazardous substances annually is an especially grave problem, since Israel’s rail system is not well-developed and many of the country’s main roads pass through densely-populated areas.
Responsibility for the transport of hazardous substances rests with the Ministry of Transport which has promulgated regulations on the subject. The regulations impose emergency preparation measures, as well as specific packing, labeling and vehicle marking (including the United Nations symbol for hazardous substances) requirements. Special licenses must be obtained for both drivers and vehicles. "No Entrance" road signs have been posted to prohibit vehicles loaded with hazardous substances from passing through densely-populated centers.