April 23, 2014 – Israeli Military Removes Sulfuric Acid as Banned Substance

Israeli Military Removes Sulfuric Acid as Banned Substance;
Good News for the Health of Several Hundred Thousand Palestinian and Israeli Residents and the Hebron / Be’er Sheva Stream!

April 23, 2014

The Hebron Stream basin is the largest of the region’s cross-border streams, originating in the Hebron hills in the West Bank, across the Green Line to merge with the Be’er Sheva stream in Israel, that further downstream joins the Besor Stream before flowing into Wadi Gaza and the Mediterranean Sea. The heavily polluted stream flows by populated areas in the West Bank including Hebron City, Yatta, and Be’er Sheva in Israel.

The Hebron Industrial Zone, located in the south eastern corner of the city, is a major source of industrial pollution. Among other industries, the Industrial Zone includes 13 leather tanneries.

“Chromium is used as part of the leather tanning process” explains Malek Abu Alfailat, Project Coordinator at EcoPeace Middle East Bethlehem office and well-versed on the Hebron Industries. “Chromium that is not absorbed by the leather, remains in the effluent of the tanning process, and transforms into a highly carcinogenic substance once released into the open environment. Chromium is an expensive material, and thus, tanneries worldwide extract the excess chromium from the effluent for reuse. In 1998, USAID built a small treatment plant to extract the chromium from the sewage of the tanneries for reuse. Worldwide, such treatment plants use sulfuric acid as an essential element.”

In 2005 towards the end of the Second Intifada, Israel banned the import of sulfuric acid to Palestinian areas due to its potential dual use as an ingredient in explosives-making. Since then, chromium has been released into the Hebron / Be’er Sheva stream from the leather tanneries, threatening pollution of groundwater and the health of hundreds of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian residents living along the stream and within the watershed

Nader Khateeb, Palestinian Director of EcoPeace said that “until EcoPeace started to focus on how to clean up the Hebron Industrial area in 2011, the release of chromium into the environment was conveniently ignored. This was a seeping time bomb of chromium into our water.”

Once the general public became aware of the issue, following several high profile media articles, the Mayors of Hebron and Be’er Sheva raised their voices, resulting in the Israeli Civil Administration’s release this week of an expanded list of approved items for entry to the West Bank, among them, sulfuric acid for industrial use. The letter, stipulates that “the expansion of the list will be permitted under tight coordination with the security services and according to a system of supervision regarding the entrance and use of permitted items”.

“Common sense has now prevailed and sulfuric acid will now be allowed for industry under supervision as had been requested from the outset – and USAID is already working with the tanners to look at their needs to re-operate the small chromium removal plant” concludes Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace Israeli Director, with much satisfaction.

For more information, please contact:
Malek Abu Alfailat, Palestinian Project Coordinator; malek@ecopeaceme.org ; 059-8844003
Nader Khateeb, Palestinian Director; nader@ecopeaceme.org; 059-9606544
Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director; gidon@ecopeaceme.org; 052-4532597