MARINE POLLUTION CONTROL

Dumping of Waste

The dumping of waste into the sea from a vessel or aircraft is regulated through a strict permit system, instituted in 1984. The regulations list categories of substances prohibited or permitted to be dumped into the sea and establish procedures and considerations for issuing permits. Thus far, only three types of dumping have been authorized: the dumping of coal ash by the Israel Electric Corporation, the dumping of industrial sludge by Haifa Chemicals, and to a lesser degree, the dumping of saturated saline solutions by Frutarom in Haifa Bay. Even when permitted, dumping must comply with detailed regulations specifying the maximum level of heavy metals in the residue, the distance from shore, the sea depth and rate of sedimentation at the dumping site, and the type of vessel used to transport the waste. In addition, a monitoring program must be implemented around the dumping site. Severe penalties are imposed for unauthorized dumping.

Until recently, ash produced at the Hadera power plant was used extensively by the cement industry and by the power plant for building a ramp around the facility. The remaining unused ash was dumped at sea, under controlled conditions. The Israel Electric Corporation is currently examining several other applications of the coal ash. In the meantime, the amount of coal ash dumped into the Mediterranean has been drastically reduced due to an agreement between the Ministry of the Environment, the Electric Corporation and the Hadera municipality which would allow the use of coal ash in the landscape planning of the long overdue Hadera River Park.

Land-Based Sources

Major progress has been made in the prevention of pollution from land-based sources, including domestic and industrial waste, agricultural runoff and river discharges, due to the enforcement of the Prevention of Marine Pollution (Land-Based Sources) Law and its accompanying regulations. The regulations, which entered into force in 1990, prohibit the discharge of any waste or wastewater into the sea without a permit. As a result of increased law enforcement, the discharge of waste from a number of polluting plants was halted; binding plans, replete with timetables, for stopping waste discharge into the sea were drawn up for industrial plants and municipalities; discharges which are not damaging to the marine environment (e.g. salts or cooling waters of power plants) were approved, in exceptional cases, by an interministerial permits committee pending installation of appropriate pollution abatement facilities; and microbial pollution was reduced in coastal areas as a result of the operation of modern wastewater treatment plants, especially in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

This year, the oil refineries, major polluters of the Haifa coastal area in the past, have totally stopped discharging their effluents following the successful operation of their new oil separators. Another ten industrial plants, deemed to be major polluters of the marine environment, have either halted the discharge of their wastes completely or now discharge their effluents in accordance with strict international standards. The most recent breakthrough occurred in June 1994 with an agreement to connect Israel Military Industries, a major polluter of the Carmel beaches, to the sewage system of the municipality of Tirat Hacarmel, following treatment of the plant’s wastewater to the requisite level. At present, four major industrial polluters and a number of smaller plants still discharge their effluents into the marine environment under a temporary permit, pending full stoppage of the discharge or regulated discharge within two years.

In addition to efforts directed toward the industrial sector, law enforcement is currently being focused on local authorities, most notably Nahariya and Acre, which still discharge untreated or minimally-treated sewage into the sea and Ra’anana which discharges its sewage through the Poleg River. During the past year, several investigations against offenders of the law were initiated, and in some cases, legal charges were pressed. The results have been encouraging. Legal claims have led to the installation of treatment facilities and to higher effluent standards. In order to fully stop all discharge of sewage into the sea, either routinely or due to an operational failure in treatment facilities, high priority is being accorded to the establishment and/or improvement of sewage treatment plants in local authorities.

Chemical pollution deriving from industrial effluents, port chemical terminals and ships transporting chemicals is carefully controlled. Significant reductions in the quantities of treated or partially treated industrial effluents reaching the sea have occurred. Handling procedures for chemicals shipped to and from Israel are designed to ensure maximum safety to the environment, thus preventing many chemical spill incidents from occurring. Furthermore, all tank washing activities are carried out according to regulations issued by the International Maritime Organization, and no significant pollution from this source is expected.

Litter

Solid waste, including nylon, plastic, bottles and driftwood, contributes significantly to the aesthetic degradation of the shores. While current and wind regimes in the eastern Mediterranean are responsible for the deposition of significant quantities of waste from other states on Israel’s shores, at least half the litter on the beaches is left behind by recreationers and bathers.

While local authorities are responsible for the regular cleaning of all authorized bathing beaches in Israel, these beaches constitute only a small percentage of the Mediterranean coastline (25 kilometers). Since 1984, the Ministry of the Environment (through the Marine Pollution Prevention Fund and later through the Cleanliness Fund) has financed the cleaning of all open beaches twice during each bathing season. The cleaning itself is conducted by local authorities under the supervision and guidance of marine pollution inspectors.

In recent years, several large-scale volunteer cleanup campaigns have been undertaken, both to clean beaches and to increase education and awareness. In June 1993 and 1994, in conjunction with Israel Environment Week, thousands of volunteers children, soldiers, government officials, diplomats, the general public and staffers of the Ministry of the Environment and Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) flocked to some 40 kilometers of shoreline to take part in massive cleanup campaigns. Last year, in Israel’s largest-ever volunteer beach cleanup, some 6,000 volunteers collected about 13,000 garbage bags, weighing over 100 tons, in one day alone. This year, over 20 tons of trash were collected in 2,800 garbage bags by over 1,500 volunteers, most of them students. Plastic constituted the largest component of the litter in both years (nearly 70%), followed by metal (mostly beverage cans), wood, glass and other articles.

The cleanups, which won wide media coverage, were accompanied by a lovable mascot, courtesy of HELMEPA, the Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association. The friendly seagull (named Hofi) was featured on stickers, posters and information pamphlets as well as on the T-shirts and hats donned by the volunteer cleanup squads as they worked to rid Israel’s coastlines of unsightly litter.

To facilitate the maintenance of cleanliness throughout the entire year, the Ministry of the Environment has distributed some 1,800 waste collection receptacles along the country’s 125 kilometers of unauthorized beaches. Volunteers from the SPNI’s youth clubs regularly distribute garbage bags to bathers during every weekend of the summer season, calling for the public’s help in maintaining clean beaches. Within the framework of International Beach Cleanup Day in September, some 45 states, including Israel, launch volunteer coastal cleanups.

This year, a unique innovation was introduced into the beach cleanup campaign: an underwater cleanup project in Eilat. The campaign, organized by the Ministry of the Environment and the Israel Diving Federation, with the active cooperation of Eilat’s diving clubs, included the participation of hundreds of divers along an 8-kilometer stretch. The aim of the underwater cleanup: to rid the water of unsightly and environmentally-harmful waste.

There has been an enormous reduction in the amount of tar along Israel’s Mediterranean beaches from 3.6 kilograms per meter in 1975 to less than 20 grams per meter today. The decrease is attributed to improved maritime enforcement, implementation of international conventions, better enforcement and inspection, technical developments in fuel container ships and coastal installation, a significant reduction in the amount of oil transported along Israel’s coasts and rapid action when spills occur.

Bathing Water Standards

Routine microbial tests at Israel’s authorized beaches are conducted by the regional public health laboratories of the Ministry of Health. Local authorities are required to sample water quality at the authorized beaches in their jurisdiction and to transfer the samples to the Ministry of Health.

In 1992, an updated modern standard for seawater quality was published by the Environmental Health Department of the Ministry of Health. With very few exceptions, Israel’s authorized beaches comply with the requirements incorporated in the standard, which are based on some of the most stringent criteria worldwide. At the beginning of the 1994 bathing season, only one bathing beach remained closed the Poleg beach in Netanyah. The beach has been closed to the public for three seasons due to the discharge of sewage from Ra’anana to the Poleg River and from there to the sea. The problem will be solved with the operation of Ra’anana’s new wastewater treatment plant, now in its planning stages.

While in the past, many local authorities shirked their responsibilities with regard to the frequency of testing required by the Ministry of Health, a significant improvement in the frequency of sampling was noted in recent years. Samples are taken once each week during the bathing season (May through October) and once a month during the winter. When contamination is deemed to pose danger to the health of bathers, the public is notified immediately.

According to the new standard, public bathing is prohibited in the following circumstances: epidemiological evidence of infectious disease connected with bathing in the beach; discharge of sewage in the vicinity of the bathing beach; detection of excrement on the beach or in the sea; presence of conditions which may endanger the health of bathers; and water which does not meet the following water quality standards:

* The geometric mean of tests taken during the season at the bathing beach must not exceed 200 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters of sea water; individual samples must not exceed 400 fecal coliform bacteria in more than 20% of all the samples;

* If more than 400 fecal coliform bacteria are discovered in a single sample, a follow-up test is required within 24-48 hours. The follow-up test must include three water samples taken from three different locations along the bathing beach;

* If one or more of the follow-up samples shows a result in excess of 400 fecal coliform bacteria, an inspection must be performed to locate the source of the contamination.

* If the results indicate danger to public health, the Ministry of Health must prohibit bathing at the beach until completion of the inspection and cessation of the contamination. The resumption of bathing will be determined on the basis of inspection results.