IHG is launching a citizen-funded air pollution monitoring system that will complement the systems operated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MoEP), local municipalities and the polluters. Our system will focus on the oil and gas industries and include a range of currently excluded criteria.
a: Air Pollution in Israel
Air pollution is a key problem in Israel, annually claiming over 2,200 lives and costing a staggering $7 billion in direct and indirect costs, according to the OECD. Chronic exposure to extreme air pollution correlates with varied illnesses, including respiratory and heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes and congenital defects.
A 2020 report by Israel’s Environmental Protection and Health ministries showed that Israelis are continually exposed to country-wide extreme levels of air pollution that significantly exceed the target standards defined by the Clean Air Law. The report evaluated exposure for seven key air pollutants, with the most dangerous being particulate matter smaller than 10 and 2.5 microns, which can penetrate deeply into the pulmonary tissues, bloodstream, and in some cases, even the brain. (For perspective, an average human hair follicle is 70 microns wide.)
Industrial processes and transportation related to the burning of fossil fuels account for most of Israel’s air pollution. However, the region’s desert climate and seasonal easternly winds and dust storms exacerbate this problem.
Click HERE for more information on Israel’s key air pollutants and standards.
b: Current monitoring – Key disadvantages:
Communities located downwind of fossil fuel processing and storage facilities are at risk of significant exposure to volatile organic compounds and other pollutants. Israel’s petrochemical operations include refineries in Haifa and Ashdod, 7 gas-fueled power plants (with 12 more planned, though highly contested), and the Leviathan, Tamar and Karish-Tanin offshore gas rigs.
Existing air monitoring stations are operated by local municipalities, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and polluters. The stations are sparsely deployed; frequently shutdown due to calibration and maintenance requirements as well as varied breakdowns; fail to measure key pollutants; and often lack coherent results between neighboring stations, since topographical and meteorological conditions can vary considerably, even at small distances. Collectively, these shortcomings make it exceedingly difficult to enforce Israel’s Clean Air Law restrictions.
Note that in addition to pollutants, monitoring stations must also measure wind direction (WD) and speed (WS) to be able to accurately identify pollution sources and location. Many ministry stations do not monitor wind direction and speed making attribution of responsibility even more difficult.
Delving into specifics…
- Few monitoring stations: For instance, current monitoring stations throughout the Carmel region neighboring the offshore Leviathan rig are dispersed at an average distance of 8 km (5 miles), mainly due to the steep cost of each station, which stands at NIS 400,000 (roughly $123,000) excluding operational costs. This sparse deployment impedes the detection and thus enforcement of pollutant violations.
- Limited pollutant-monitoring: Current stations monitor a range of general pollutants, such as ozone, NOx, SOx, PM2.5 and BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene – all compounds occurring in crude oil and natural gas). However, the stations only monitor three types of volatile organic compounds and fail to monitor many other highly toxic and carcinogenic compounds typically emitted from oil and gas production and storage facilities, such as butadiene.
- Impeded enforcement: Existing stations use gas chromatography (GC) to assess the levels of volatile organic compounds. GC necessitates both automatic and manual periodic calibration to remain accurate, which requires (often unavailable) high-level experts on site and increases both operational costs and shutdowns (for the frequent calibrations). The calibrations and unscheduled shutdowns characteristic of GC-based systems, coupled with the limited number of monitoring stations, significantly impedes emissions enforcement.
The Proposed Solution:
Our scientific team is cooperating with world-renowned experts, including the leading environmental and health engineering company, Ramboll, to offer an innovative system that will bypass current difficulties.
The new infrastructure will use reliable sensors that are 1/10 the cost of current monitoring stations, thereby enabling broader deployment and more flexible and accurate monitoring. The sensors will focus on volatile organic compounds emitted from fossil fuel use and production, providing continuous monitoring of total organic compounds (TOC). Violations of permitted levels will trigger automatic tube sampling of the air for 24 hours. The tubes will then be assessed by certified laboratories equipped with far more accurate instrumentation than that currently available in the field stations. The number of pollutants monitored will also expand considerably, to include 40 different volatile organic compounds. That said, during its first phases, the new system will not monitor certain key pollutants, such as BTEX, Ozone, SOx, NOx and fine particulate matter due to the significantly higher costs involved. We hope to address this in the future.
The new system will initially be deployed in population centers near the Leviathan rig (located only 6 miles offshore) and in the pollution-hit cities of Haifa and Ashdod/Ashkelon. In the future, we plan to expand our system to other key pollution hotspots throughout Israel.
Today, the regulator has limited ability to effectively monitor Israel’s air quality, particularly with regards to volatile organic compounds. Monitoring stations are sparsely dispersed, frequently shut down and limited in the range of pollutants monitored. Moreover, in some cases, the Environment Ministry and local municipalities depend on reports provided by the polluters themselves.
IHG’s independent air pollution monitoring will provide Israel’s citizens with reliable, real-time air quality data. In parallel, our system will provide regulators with the critical, legally admissible data needed to enforce Israel’s Clean Air Law and penalize polluters.
The proposed system will be owned by and accessible to all citizens, operating impartially to monitor the true air quality at any given moment. This will solve the current situation in which Israel’s factories, powerplants and refineries monitor themselves.
Polluters will ultimately come to realize that pollution-reduction measures are economically preferable. However, this understanding – critical to the health of Israel’s residents and environment – will only be possible if air pollution monitoring can unequivocally identify polluters, enabling accurate, comprehensive enforcement.
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