Tsunami of toxic waste­water kills plants, an­i­mals in Is­rael’s desert

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

MISHOR ROTEM, Is­rael: Toxic waste­water that surged through a dry riverbed in south­ern Is­rael at the week­end left a wake of eco­log­i­cal de­struc­tion more than 20 km long. The flood be­gan last Fri­day when the 60 me­ter high wall of a reser­voir at a phos­phate fac­tory par­tially col­lapsed, let­ting loose 100,000 cu­bic me­ters of highly acidic waste­water in the Ashalim riverbed. That was enough fluid to fill 40 Olympic­sized pools.

The toxic tor­rent snaked through the desert, singe­ing any­thing in its path, be­fore col­lect­ing again hours later in a pool sev­eral kilo­me­ters from the Dead Sea, the low­est point on earth. Days later, the ground is still stained a dark brown and giv­ing off a nau­se­at­ing acidic stench, more po­tent than a highly chlo­ri­nated swim­ming pool. One sec­tion of the Ashalim riverbed is made up of nar­row canyons, pop­u­lar for hik­ing, but no one was around when the waste­water first gushed through.

Is­rael’s Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment has opened a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the plant’s owner, Rotem Am­fert, and its par­ent com­pany Is­rael Chem­i­cals (ICL), a lead­ing potash and fer­til­izer pro­ducer with ex­clu­sive rights in Is­rael to mine the Dead Sea. “All the plants and an­i­mals in the val­ley dur­ing the tsunami of acid were prob­a­bly highly dam­aged, prob­a­bly dead,” said Oded Net­zer, an ecol­o­gist for the min­istry. “In the long term, there will be soil dam­age and large func­tional eco­log­i­cal prob­lems.”

He said weeks of in­tense cleanup work, in­clud­ing pump­ing out small pools of the waste­water that re­main along the path, lay ahead, and com­plete re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion would likely take years. ICL has stopped us­ing the se­ries of reser­voirs where the breech oc­curred. They con­tained a pro­duc­tion by-prod­uct called phos­ph­o­gyp­sum wa­ter.

The com­pany de­clined to an­swer ques­tions on the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion or about the im­pact the in­ci­dent will have on its op­er­a­tions. Shares in ICL fell al­most 4 per­cent af­ter the spill but par­tially re­cov­ered to trade 1.3 per­cent higher on Tues­day. In a state­ment, Rotem Am­fert said it was work­ing “around the clock” in full co­or­di­na­tion with au­thor­i­ties, and it would spare no re­sources to clean up the riverbed.—Reuters

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