A leak from Dead Sea Works pollutes the surrounding area; protected plants found dead

A leak from a supply channel from the Dead Sea works to Nahal Tze’elim in the south of the country appears to have caused damage to the surrounding ecosystem, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said on Sunday.

The authority said plants in the area had been found dead and some of them were protected species.

Investigators arrived at the scene and found leaks east of the supply channel, which in turn caused soil salinization.

There appeared to be no evidence of soil erosion as a result of the leak.

However, the authority noted that there was evidence the area was populated by deer, rabbits, hyenas, foxes and rodents, meaning wildlife could potentially suffer due to a lack food and shade if the plants died. It was unclear if any animals had ever been harmed.

The authority said the water flow was low at the source of the leak, but increased downstream. There was also an area where the leaked liquid had collected.

Aerial photo of Nahal Tze’elim, the site of a Dead Sea Works leak, with the Dead Sea in the background. June 5, 2022. (Nature and Parks Authority)

Drones were used to map the area of ​​the incident to assess the extent of the damage, as well as to investigate the possibility of the pollution spreading further. It was said there was no immediate danger to the wider nature reserve.

Dead Sea Works is owned by Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL), which said it reported the leak on Saturday and launched an operation to fix the problem.

“Upon initial identification of the case, it was reported to the authorities in accordance with procedures and its causes are being investigated. The company strives to provide prompt response and immediate treatment to reduce the infiltration of ‘seawater,’ ICL said in a statement.

ICL is also the parent company of ICL Rotem (formerly Rotem Amfert Negev Ltd), which is responsible for one of Israel’s worst environmental disasters – the 2017 disaster in which between 100,000 and 250,000 cubic meters (3, 5 million to 8.8 million cubic feet) or more of highly toxic sewage was sent into the Ashalim stream, causing massive damage to the area.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection is in contact with the Nature and Parks Authority, as well as regional environmental organizations, and monitors ICL’s operations while trying to find the most quickly to stop the leak and minimize damage to the area.

Aerial photo of Nahal Tze’elim, the site of a Dead Sea Works leak, June 5, 2022. (Nature and Parks Authority)

The Dead Sea is receding about 1.2 meters (four feet) every year. The Jordan River, historically the main source of water for the Dead Sea, is being diverted for agricultural and other uses by Israel, Jordan and Syria, all of which have growing populations.

Despite this, Dead Sea Works is licensed to pump huge amounts of water from the lake.

ICL is controlled by the Israeli Ofer family company, the country’s largest holding company. It manufactures fertilizers, metals and other chemicals from bromine, phosphate, magnesium and potash mined in the Dead Sea or mined elsewhere in the Negev desert.

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