The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MoEP) is recommending that warnings be issued against swimming and fishing in the northern part of the Gulf of Acre, after high concentrations of mercury were found in the area. Officials suspect the source of the contamination is an abandoned Electrochemicals Industries Ltd. factory, where the company manufactured PVC, chlorine, caustic soda, and other toxic substances until the factory was closed in 2004. The manufacturing process used heavy metals that contributed to the pollution of Haifa Bay and the sea.
The high mercury levels were found at two monitoring stations during the MoEP’s Mediterranean monitoring program. The monitoring was carried out within the framework of research by Dr. Efrat Shoham-Frieder of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research. The monitoring program takes place under the guidance of the ministry.
Researchers found that 1 Km south of the beach, mercury concentrations were up to 251 micrograms per liter, whereas the maximum permitted value is 0.4 micrograms/liter. The samples were taken from the beach and the sea after mercury levels were found to be rising in the tissue of edible fish from the area.
Exposure to mercury can cause burning of the skin in the short term, and prolonged exposure can cause severe damage to the kidneys, liver and nervous system.
Director of the Marine Environment Protection Division Rani Amir: "We are conducting extensive research to examine the extent of the contamination and its impact on the beaches and animals in Acre. This site was polluted for decades, and along with monitoring, it is our duty to warn all responsible parties that they take all measures to protect the public." Toward that end, and because there is free access to the area where the high mercury levels were found, the MoEP is recommending that:
- Local authorities and the Ministry of Health fence off the relevant section of the beach, prohibit swimming, and post signs informing visitors about the contamination on the coast and in the sea.
- The Acre Municipality and the Ministry of Health carry out further sampling of mercury in all beaches in the city, as soon as possible.
- The Fishing Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development prohibit fishing from the northern Gulf of Acre until further notice.