Haifa Ammonia Plant Move Urged After Texas Explosion

YERUSHALAYIM -

The explosion in a Texas fertilizer plant on Wednesday night that took as many as 15 lives has prompted Israeli officials to insist on the urgent removal of an ammonia facility from Haifa to a less populated area, according to media reports.

Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz called upon the government to move the ammonia storage tank owned by Haifa Chemicals to a remote location in the South where civilian population would not be at risk.

“Hazardous materials near populations are a ticking time bomb and it is our duty to invest the necessary funds and accelerate the separation of hazardous materials from population centers,” Erdan said.

The explosion in the small Texan town of West, about 80 miles south of Dallas, killied up to 15, wounded more than 150 and spread flames of toxic fumes, endangering the approximately 2,700 residents, Reuters reported.

It is not the first time that the Haifa ammonia facility has aroused public concern. Plans to remove the hazard have been in the works for some time. The government made a decision on March 1, 2012, that operations at the Haifa site must shut down by the beginning of 2017.

Risk assessments for the Haifa facility, which has a capacity of 12,000 tons, showed that a leak could result in thousands of deaths.

But the Texas disaster has concentrated minds. Erdan demanded that the government urgently allocate the budget required for the move, which he said has been delayed due to lack of funding.

Peretz also noted the dangers during a visit to the site two weeks ago.

“Every moment that passes and in which enormous quantities of ammonia are stored next to the public is a dangerous moment,” Peretz said on Thursday. “We must look at the explosion in Texas as a warning light and not accept the continued existence of the container in the Haifa Bay.”

While ammonia — a nitrogen and hydrogen combination — and fertilizer — typically a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — are different substances, government officials and environmental activists maintain that the ammonia poses no less a potential danger.

Following a request from Peretz’s office, a discussion on the issue has been scheduled for the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday, to be chaired by the head of the National Security Council Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror, with representatives from the relevant ministries slated to participate.