Factors affecting air quality in Israel today are similar to those faced the world over. The population is increasing, and as it rises, so does overall consumption of fuel. The increase in population is accompanied by a rise in the standard of living; consequently, the number of privately-owned vehicles is escalating and increased vehicular emissions are the result. Furthermore, as the industrial base continues to expand, increased industrial pollutants enter the atmosphere. Finally, Israel’s unique geological, topographical and climatic features compound the problems of air pollution.

Sources of Air Pollution

The main sources of air pollution are energy production, transportation and industry. Since these are mostly concentrated along the coastal plain, the highest levels of pollution have been detected in this area.

In Israel, the most problematic air pollutant, as shown by air quality monitoring carried out since 1970, is sulphur dioxide (SO2). Relatively high concentrations of SO2 emitted for the most part by power plants and oil refineries are routinely monitored in the Ashdod area and the Haifa Bay. One of the reasons for this is the high sulphur content of the heavy fuel oil in use in Israel. The Haifa Bay, with the most intense industrial activity in the country, coupled with the difficult atmospheric dispersion conditions caused by the influence of the Mediterranean Sea and the complex topography of Mount Carmel, is probably the most polluted area in the country, followed by Ashdod as a close second.

Natural conditions for pollution dispersion in the atmosphere of the coastal plain are not favorable. With the extremely high amount of solar radiation prevalent in this part of the world, photochemical air pollution similar to that occurring in Los Angeles, California is possible. A trend of increasing ozone concentration is indeed evident.

Dense vehicular traffic causes air pollution problems, mainly in the heavily populated urban centers of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Black soot emitted from diesel-powered vehicles is the reason for many public complaints, and is also the cause of visible soiling of stone buildings in the city centers. Israel lacks a developed railway system, and therefore diesel-powered buses and trucks account for a very high proportion of the vehicular fleet (about 17%); over 15% of these buses are of an old and smoky model built before 1973. As the rate of motorization increases, air quality, especially in the coastal area, may further deteriorate.

Ambient Air Quality Standards and Monitoring

Israeli ambient air quality standards, first promulgated in 1971, covered five pollutants which are mainly the product of fuel combustion: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), lead particles (Pb) and soiling index (SI) as well as oxidants (Ox), hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and total suspended particulates (TSP). These air quality standards incorporated a frequency parameter which allowed an excess of the level of pollution specified in the standard for about 1% of the time of the year.

Since 1982, these ambient standards have been under review by an interdisciplinary committee of experts, which has prepared proposals for modified standards including appropriate criteria documents for SO2, ozone (O3), CO, and particulate matter (TSP, respirable particulates (PM10), dust fall, lead and sulphates). A revised version of the 1971 regulations has recently come into force. It includes, in addition to the pollutants previously noted, additional standards based on the 1987 World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines. These standards include dichloroethane, dichloromethane, toluene, tetrachloroethylene, styrene, formaldehyde and the metals vanadium and cadmium. The statistical terminology (i.e. the allowance to exceed the specified level for 1% of the time) was omitted from the new version of the standards, with the exception of SO2 (Table 1).

Routine monitoring of air pollutants started in Israel in 1969, when the Ministry of Health and the Israel Electric Corporation began operating ten monitoring stations in the Tel Aviv area around the "Reading D" power plant. In 1976, local environmental units began operating additional monitoring stations in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva.

In 1979, the first automatic real-time air pollution monitoring network was established in the Hadera area around the new 1400 MW coal-fired power plant, including 12 monitoring stations and a computerized control center. In 1986, a second network, which includes five stations, started to monitor air quality in the vicinity of the power plant and oil refinery of Ashdod. Israel’s third real-time network, with seven monitoring stations, began operation in Ashkelon in 1989; the fourth, with eight monitoring stations, began operation in 1990 in the Haifa area. In addition to SO2, NOx, CO, O3, TSP and hydrocarbons (HC) monitoring, these networks also measure meteorological parameters such as wind speed and direction, temperature and barometric pressure.

Sulphur dioxide is a severe problem, especially in the Haifa and Ashdod areas. In Haifa, the high SO2 concentrations occur at night or early mornings, especially in spring and autumn, whereas in the Ashdod area and in Tel Aviv, they occur during the daylight hours of the summer months. The introduction of intermittent control systems (in which low sulphur fuel is used in unfavorable atmospheric dispersion conditions) has led to reductions in SO2 concentrations (Figure 24).

Dust levels are naturally high in Israel, particularly in the area of Be’er Sheva, where dust storms occur most frequently. A significant proportion of dust can also be attributed to human activities. Particulate matter pollution in the form of black soot from diesel-powered vehicles constitutes a severe problem.

The data from the monitoring networks regarding nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide do not show high concentrations; however, recent studies have shown that high levels of these pollutants exist in the congested urban center of Jerusalem.

The extremely high amounts of solar radiation in the Middle East result in photochemical air pollution. Ozone levels are quite high, and a trend of increased concentrations is evident. In Jerusalem, ozone levels are high as a result of wind currents from the coastal plane.

Energy Requirements and Air Pollutant Emissions

Israel relies on fossil fuels for most of its energy requirements. Natural gas and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) are used in Israel in small quantities: natural gas for industry (0.3% of the total national energy requirement), and LPG mainly for domestic heating such as space and water heating and cooking (1.5% of the total national energy requirement). Use of gasoline constitutes about 13% of the total national energy requirement, and kerosene about 7%, most of which is supplied as jet fuel and a small portion for domestic space heating and cooking. Distillate fuel oil (equivalent to ASTM fuel oil No. 2) is used (about 11% of the total energy requirement) by diesel-powered vehicles and other stationary diesel motors, by electric gas turbines and for domestic space and water heating.

Relatively small amounts of light residual oil (equivalent to ASTM fuel oil grades No. 4 and 5) are used mostly for steam generation in small to medium sized boilers, especially when the plant is located near residential areas.

Heavy fuel oil (equivalent to ASTM fuel oil grade No. 6), constituting about 32% of the total energy requirement of Israel, is used mainly for electricity generation (22% of the energy requirement), and by heavy industries such as oil refineries, in cement kilns, and in large industrial steam boilers.

Most of the coal in Israel is used for electricity generation (96%); the rest goes to cement production and steam generation. Coal supplies 21% of the total energy requirement of the country.

In order to assess total emissions of combustion-derived pollutants, an emission inventory was prepared. The inventory was calculated using emission factors published by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and adapted to the specific conditions existing in Israel.

Electricity production is the major source of sulphur dioxide emissions responsible for 70% of emissions; heavy industry and oil refining contribute about 18%; transportation accounts for about 4% and medium industry, based on light fuel oil, for about 5%.

The emissions inventory shows that in spite of a 30% increase in the total national energy requirement that occurred between 1980 and 1989, total SO2 emissions were reduced by 5%. This reduction resulted from the partial shift in electricity generation from high sulphur residual oil (3.5% sulphur) to relatively low sulphur coal (about 1% sulphur) during periods of difficult atmospheric conditions, and from the general reduction in the average sulphur content of the heavy residual oil to 2.7%. With increased consumption of oil and coal, an increase in SO2 emissions was noted in 1990, but by 1991, another decrease occurred due to the further reduction of the average sulphur content of the heavy residual oil to 2.5%. Thus SO2 emissions were reduced by 14% between 1980 and 1991 (Figure 25).

Carbon monoxide (CO) emissions have risen dramatically, by 84.2% between 1980 and 1991, due largely to increased automobile use. Gasoline-powered vehicles account for 92% of CO emissions; diesel-powered trucks, buses and taxis contribute about 7%. A reduction in emissions is expected to occur with the introduction of cars equipped with catalytic converters, beginning in 1991. By 1993 all new automobiles will be required to have catalytic converters. The rate of emission of lead particles has fallen because of the adoption of a maximum permissible level of lead content in gasoline of 0.15 grams/liter, down from 42 grams/liter in 1987. With the gradual introduction of unleaded gasoline, further reduction in lead emissions is expected.

Hydrocarbon (HC) emissions have risen as a result of increased gasoline use (88.2% since 1980). However, because gasoline specifications in Israel dictate a rather low vapor pressure (RVP of 8.5 psig), losses into the air from evaporation are reduced and the overall quantities of HC emissions are not large.

Most of the total suspended particulates (TSP) emissions originate from the combustion of heavy residual oil, rich in asphaltenes and sulphur which produce black soot, fly ash and sulphate particles. The diesel oil specifications in Israel allow a high sulphur content of 0.4%, which also contributes to increased TSP emissions from diesel-powered vehicles and stationary diesel motors. However, TSP emissions have not increased significantly over the past decade, mainly because of the introduction of coal- fired power plants, in which particulate matter emissions are controlled by high efficiency electrostatic precipitators.

Increased demand for fossil fuels has resulted in higher carbon dioxide (CO2) and NOx emissions. Nitrogen oxide emissions, attributable largely to vehicle emissions (52%) and to electricity production (40%), increased by 94.8% between 1980 and 1991 (Figure 26).

Air Pollution Control and Enforcement

The policy of the Ministry of the Environment is based on limiting air pollution through rational physical planning, rather than controlling emissions after nuisances have appeared, or rectifying a bad environmental situation that has developed over the years.

The Planning and Building Law, through its Environmental Impact Statements Regulation (1982), serves as one of the main tools for air quality preservation, by restricting emissions of air pollutants from planned installations. Preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) is required for any of the following types of projects, if significant environmental impact is expected: electric power plants, hazardous waste disposal sites, mines and quarries, and industrial plants located outside areas assigned for industrial activities whose siting, scope of activity or production processes are likely to cause a significant impact on the environment beyond the local neighborhood. Some of the projects for which EISs have been prepared include the coal-fired electric power plants in Hadera (1,400 MW) and Ashkelon (1,100 MW), the crude oil refineries in Haifa and Ashdod, and the cement plants in Haifa, Bet Shemesh and Ramle.

One of the most important legal instruments in Israel for controlling air pollution from stationary sources is the personal decree. Personal decrees are issued by the Minister of the Environment under the authority of the Abatement of Nuisances Law. They give specific instructions to polluters on how to prevent air pollution, and have been issued to a number of older power plants, crude oil refineries, cement plants, the phosphate loading terminal in Ashdod Port, several chemical and petrochemical plants, two asphalt plants, a food production factory, and a lead battery factory.

Steps to prevent air pollution can also be enforced through the introduction of special environmental conditions into the business licenses of problematic plants, under the Licensing of Businesses Law.

Control and enforcement or air pollution laws in Israel is carried out mainly by the environmental protection units of the local authorities.

Air Quality Management, Present and Future

To improve air quality in Israel, a comprehensive air pollution action program was launched in 1987. While progress has been achieved in some areas, most of the issues included in the original program can still serve as a basis for future action. Other issues placing emphasis on technological solutions to pollutant emissions from both stationary and mobile sources have been added more recently. Following is a synopsis of the Ministry of the Environment’s ten-point program:

1. In 1987, it was recommended that ambient air quality standards be revised and expanded so that they will constitute national goals for air quality, and will include a list of standards for chemical substances and hazardous air pollutants, in addition to the combustion-generated pollutants. As per the recommendation, updated air quality standards were indeed published in 1992. Israeli environmental standards should be in accord with international requirements such as those set by the provisions of global conventions and protocols.

2. Performance and emission standards suitable to the conditions in Israel should be promulgated. This will eliminate the need to rely on personal decrees for enforcement in the future. First on the list of priorities for setting performance standards should be large power plant steam boilers, medium-sized industrial steam boilers and cement kilns. The most important emission standards to be set are for the pollutants SO2, NOx, and particulate matter emitted from all sizes of stationary fuel combustion installations, and for CO, smoke, NOx, and HC emitted from mobile sources. Emission standards are now being prepared and will be promulgated. At present, emission standards are set within the framework of personal decrees to polluting plants and within the context of the Licensing of Businesses Law.

3. Tighter standards for fuel quality, based on environmental considerations, should be promulgated. It is especially important to reduce the sulphur content in heavy residual oil and in diesel oil. It should be noted that the lead content in gasoline has been reduced to 0.15 grams/liter, and that the sulphur content in heavy residual fuel has been reduced to 2.5% Further reductions are required.

4. The use of oxygenated fuels and other types of energy as alternatives to gasoline for motor vehicles should be encouraged. A broad and efficient system for controlling motor vehicle emissions should be established. Catalytic converters will become mandatory in all new vehicles as of August 1993. Drivers will be encouraged to use low-volatility unleaded gasoline.

5. Regulations on the prevention of burning at waste disposal sites have been promulgated. Present policy is to tighten enforcement of the regulations.

6. Old and smoky buses in city centers should be taken out of service at a faster rate than is done today. New regulations are now being prepared on smoke emissions by diesel vehicles. Modern and energy-efficient public transportation systems should be established to replace both private and public motor vehicles, especially in the Tel Aviv and Haifa areas.

7. The use of CFCs and halons in Israel should be reduced and subsequently abolished altogether, as required by the Montreal Protocol. Israel is currently undertaking the necessary steps to ratify the Montreal Protocol. Emissions of "greenhouse" gases (such as CO2) should be reduced and energy conservation should be encouraged in all sectors.

8. More air quality monitoring systems should be established in areas not yet covered, such as the Tel Aviv area, the Galilee, and the Negev. Intermittent control systems, dictating a switch to very low sulphur fuel when required, should be expanded and strengthened, and an air quality monitoring system, based on remote sensing, should be developed. A national center for air quality data storage and analysis, based on data obtained from the regional monitoring network, should be established in the Ministry of the Environment. A country-wide air pollution dispersion model should be developed to assess the impact of large national projects such as power plants on air quality.

9. Administrative measures should be taken to strengthen enforcement of air pollution laws and regulations, especially the imposition of heavy fines on offenders. Inspection authorities in environmental units should be equipped to provide high-quality stack and exhaust sampling services.

10. Research on air pollution control and air quality monitoring should be expanded and more funds should be provided for that purpose.

Legal Framework for Air Pollution Prevention

The Abatement of Nuisances Law of 1961 is the principal legislative instrument for controlling air pollution. The law deals in a broad fashion with the prevention of air pollution, stating that a person shall not cause any considerable or unreasonable pollution of the air from any source whatsoever, if it disturbs, or is likely to disturb anyone nearby. In a similar manner, the law deals with the more specific nuisances of odors. The law authorizes the Minister of the Environment to promulgate regulations defining what constitutes considerable or unreasonable air pollution and odors. Israeli ambient air quality standards have been defined in a regulation first promulgated in 1971 and revised in 1992.

The law also empowers the Minister of the Environment to address specific polluters with personal decrees, which instruct them on the steps they should take to prevent the nuisances which they create. These decrees have become the backbone for controlling industrial air pollution. The Abatement of Nuisances Law further provides that any permit required for the operation of an undertaking shall be conditional upon compliance with the various provisions of the law.

Local authorities may enact by-laws on air pollution prevention within the framework of the Abatement of Nuisances Law. The municipality of Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv, was the first local authority to enact a by-law on air pollution prevention in 1988. It grants the municipality new tools with which to handle air pollution and odors from industrial plants within its jurisdiction. Contravention of the law is a criminal offense, as well as grounds for a civil procedure.

Regulations that have been promulgated pursuant to the Abatement of Nuisances Law include:

* The Air Pollution from Premises Regulation, 1962, which prohibits emissions of black smoke into the air (in accordance to the Ringelmann Chart), and the Air Pollution from Vehicles Regulation, 1963, which prohibits the emission of black smoke from motor vehicles (in accordance to the Hartridge Smoke Meter). A companion regulation details how to measure smoke from vehicles;

* The Air Quality Regulation, 1971, revised and expanded in 1992, defines unreasonable air pollution for specific levels of air pollutants;

* The Emission of Particulate Matter in the Air Regulation, 1972, defines the permissible emission rate of particulate matter from an industrial facility in terms of the quantity of raw materials supplied to the production process;

* The Air Pollution from Heavy Fuel Oil Burners used for Household Heating Regulation, 1972, prohibits the use of heavy fuel oil in households for central space heating systems;

* The Prevention of Unreasonable Air and Smell Pollution from Solid Waste Disposal Sites Regulation, 1990, prohibits the burning of waste at solid waste disposal sites and requires operators to undertake means to operate such facilities in a manner that shall prevent emissions of air pollution, smoke and odors.

The Traffic Ordinance, New Version (1961) authorizes traffic magistrates to enforce those provisions of the Abatement of Nuisances Law which involve motor vehicles. Regulations promulgated under this ordinance prohibit the registration of a vehicle unless it conforms with inspection standards for emissions, including some European Community standards.

A 1982 regulation within the framework of the Planning and Building Law, 1965, prohibits the planning authorities from considering plans for certain types of projects, including projects which are expected to cause air pollution, unless environmental impact statements have been submitted for them.

The Licensing of Businesses Law allows local authorities to impose special environmental limits for the issuance of business licenses; these limits may be based on US Environmental Protection Agency regulations, on emissions standards issued by the Federal Government of Germany, or on other standards.