"Haifa bay as dangerous as nuclear bomb"

Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Benjamin Ben-Eliezer:This is not first time, nor the second time, that such an incident has occurred.

"This is not first time that such an incident has occurred," said Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Benjamin Ben-Eliezer in response to the lethal gas leak at Oil Refineries Ltd. (TASE:ORL) in Haifa yesterday.

"I have been warning for years about the dangers at the area, which are like a nuclear bomb. I hope that there is a timeline, due to the dangers of concentrations of toxic materials and dangerous factories in the area, to begin the careful move of the dangerous facilities over the coming years. I also exercised my authority when I minister of national infrastructures to bring natural gas to the area, which will slight lower the great danger there. We're still investigating the causes of the accident, and we should remain cautious about. If I see that the area continues to be a safety hazard, I'll act to close it."

This morning a third man died from last night's toxic leak at Oil Refineries: Samer al-Hajj, 18, of Yafia, a village near Nazareth. Two cousins from the same village died in the leak: George Za'atrah, 31, and Tamer Marjiah, 33. Eight victims are still hospitalized, and the condition of one victim remains serious.

Prior to the toxic gas leak at Oil Refineries, there were two leaks of hazardous bromide gas, one at Haifa Port Company Ltd., and the other at Ramat Hovav in the Negev. Both leaks could have had lethal consequences. The series of breakdowns yesterday, which ended with the deaths in Haifa, raise serious questions about the handling of hazardous materials.

The first incident occurred at 12:30 pm at the factory of Israel Chemicals Ltd. (TASE: ICL) bromine products unit at Ramat Hovav, when employees spotted a leak from a truck carrying 21 tons of bromine to the company's Dead Sea Works unit. At this point, it is believed that a crack in the tanker, caused the leak. It is not known when the leak began or if it lasted a long time.

When the leak was discovered, factory workers handled it and covered the tanker with special metal sheeting to contain the leak. An investigation into the incident has been opened, and the results are due in a few days.

The second incident occurred at 7:30 pm, when a bromine tank at Haifa Port was found to be leaking. A preliminary investigation found that the tank had carried bromine by ship to the Netherlands and was shipped back empty to Israel. Nonetheless, residual bromine in the tank had not been treated. The leak was handled on site at the port. "We're ready every day of the year to deal with bromine incidents because of the material's potential for devastation," Haifa Fire and Rescue Service officer Lahav Ran Levy told "Yediot Ahronot".

The third, and most serious, incident was at 8:45 pm at Oil Refineries in Haifa, killing three employees and injuring eight. The leak occurred when an employee carrying out renovations at the company's Lapid Refinery inhaled toxic fumes when he removed his gas mask. A second employee was immediately affected, followed by two more who ran up to assist the injured men and were severely injured themselves from the fumes.

Large forces of the Israel Police, Magen David Adom, Fire and Rescue Services, and hazardous materials teams arrived at the scene to seal the leak and treat the casualties.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has been worried about bromine leaks, which can be extremely hazardous, for years. Bromine is a solid substance that easily vaporizes and spreads, and inhaling or touching even small quantities can severely damage the respiratory and nervous systems.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 24, 2010

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2010

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