Israelis and visitors to the Western Galilee region are rejoicing over the fact that they can finally use many of the beaches in that area. That’s because for the past six years, authorities from the Environmental Protection Ministry have had to close area beaches to the public because of an abundance of friable asbestos debris found there, mostly the result of materials left behind by the Eitanit Company, which operated in the Nahariya area for more than 45 years.
According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, throughout the past six years, some 150,000 cubic meters of soil polluted by asbestos was removed throughout the region at a cost of NIS 327 million, with 40,000 cubic meters alone eliminated from the beach, at a cost of NIS 80m., a spokesperson from the environmental agency reported.
The government financed the cost in partnership with Eitanit, which produced asbestos-containing construction products in its factory. Eitanit, originally known as Isasbest, fought the government as to its responsibilities for remediation but eventually agreed to pay for half the clean-up.
The Isasbest factory opened in 1952 and shuttered its doors in 1997. The government says the company was responsible for most of the asbestos waste spread across the Western Galilee, and area residents have been livid about the condition of the beaches for decades.
Now, many look forward to getting back to the beaches during the current holiday season.
“A significant part of the project has been completed before the [Passover] holiday, allowing the public to enjoy the beach during this holiday, as well as the spring and summer months,” said Minister Ze’ev Elkin. “We are currently examining, together with the municipality and other entities, how we can continue the project for the benefit of the public and the area.”
The Nahariya Beach suffered from significant contamination as it was regularly saturated with asbestos from Eitanit’s discharges of waste into the sea, beginning in the 1980s, Elkin noted.
The western strip of that beach is now safe for visitors, but the Ministry stresses that this is the only part of the beach where soil samples have been taken to ensure that levels of asbestos in the sand – where beach goers spend most of their time – are acceptable.
Visitors should stay away from other areas of the beach that have not yet been deemed safe, say officials.
One particular challenge, they note, was addressing the asbestos found on the rocks where the sand meets the Sea of Galilee, where the company’s drainage channel was located.
Rather than attempt to remove the rocks, they are now covered by a concrete casting, which the agency hopes will last for years to come. However, they will continue to monitor the condition of the rocks which, experts say, present a much lower risk of exposure than the sand.