Update: inquiry into Jerusalem toxic waste site explosion

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Jerusalem Post

Inquiry finds safety violations behind toxic-waste site blaze By Liat Collins

JERUSALEM (August 9) - The committee of inquiry into the explosion and fire earlier this year at a privately owned incinerator at the Ramat Hovav toxic waste site has recommended the police investigate Ecosol, the company which operated the facility, for possible violations of the conditions of its business license and hazardous materials permits.

The Environment Ministry committee of inquiry, chaired by ministry deputy director-general Mikki Haran, found several safety hazards at the Ecosol facility where two fires broke out within two weeks last spring. "The safety hazards discovered during the inquiry point to a poor approach to safety at the facility," Haran said.

Ecosol, a part of the French-owned Vivendi concern, handles some 18,000 tons of hazardous waste a year at the Ramat Hovav incinerator. The inquiry concentrated on the circumstances surrounding an explosion and fire on March 25, the result of a chemical reaction, and found that although there were no injuries or environmental damage, the incident had "high-risk potential."

The committee of inquiry said in its report that maintenance at the plant was substandard; changes had been carried out there without expert supervision; the monitoring system was insufficient; not all the workers were aware of emergency procedures, and the firefighting equipment had not operated properly.

In addition, the report states that Ecosol stored the hazardous materials together without checking their suitability, and substances sensitive to oxygen or water were held in improper conditions. It also said the company had not reported the incident in the proper manner.

The committee recommended several measures be taken including carrying out a thorough risk assessment at the site; improving maintenance; practicing emergency routines; improving warning systems and either manning the monitor room 24 hours a day or linking the warning systems to the emergency alarm system; documenting the chemical suitability of substances handled; and improving the firefighting system.

It also recommended improving liaison with the ministry and the Ramat Hovav Environmental Services, which is responsible for overall operation of the toxic waste site.

Deena Luski, a spokeswoman for Ecocol, said in response that the company is still studying the report and taking it very seriously. She said that the company appointed a team of international experts to examine the incident and the team's conclusions, submitted in May, had been fully accepted by the ministry.

"Without any doubt, Ecosol works according to the criteria of its business license and hazardous materials permits," she said.

Haran also said that Ecosol had begun instituting the necessary improvements following the report by the international team.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), August 09, 2001

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