Exposure to ambient air pollution – even at very low concentrations – is associated with a range of adverse health effects in the general population, including asthma and other respiratory diseases, cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, cancer, neurodevelopmental effects, and adverse birth outcomes. In 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). Scientific evidence indicates that the major air pollutants associated with adverse health effects are particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Additional ambient air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde and selected polycyclic aromatic compounds are known human carcinogens.
Standards and Policy
Ambient air quality is regulated according to the Israel Clean Air Law, which was approved in 2008 and entered into force in January 2011. Prior to the Clean Air Law, ambient air quality in Israel was regulated according to more than ten different laws and standards, including the 1992 Prevention of Nuisance Standards which set maximum ambient air pollutant levels. These levels were generally less stringent than those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) or the European Union limit values.
The main prohibitions and obligations according to the Clean Air Law are:
- Air quality values will be set by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MoEP) and updated regularly. Air Quality values include (a) target values whose exceedance constitutes potential harm to public health; (b) environmental values which are based on target values but take into account practical achievability; and (c) alarm values whose exceedance, even for short periods, causes or is likely to cause danger or harm to human health.
- The MoEP is required to inform the general public about high air pollution levels and provide recommendations for sensitive populations including pregnant women, children, the elderly, and individuals with heart or lung disease.
- Industrial plants with a potential for high air pollution emissions are required to obtain emissions permits, based on the best available technologies for reducing emissions, as a prerequisite for continued activity.
- The MoEP is required to prepare a National Pollution Reduction and Prevention Program, which will enable compliance with the Israel ambient air quality standards and will aspire to comply with the target values.
- The MoEP will enforce penalties against violators of the Israel Clean Air Law who endanger human health.
Regulations establishing air quality standards entered into force in May 2011 and updated regulations will enter into force in January 2015. The regulations include environmental values (ambient air quality standards) for 28 contaminants, including PM, gases (criteria pollutants), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals. Below is a comparison of the ambient air quality standards for selected criteria air pollutants, in the current and 2015 standards:
Table 1: Current and Future Ambient Air Quality Standards (criteria pollutants) in Israel (μg/m3)
Israel air quality standards are high compared to European standards for PM10 and ozone, and to US standards for ozone and PM2.5.
As mandated by the Clean Air Law, the MoEP developed a multi–year (2012-2020) National Pollution Reduction and Prevention Program. Ambient air pollution measures required by the program include measures related to the following sectors: energy, industry, transportation, and household. A version of the program was approved in August 2013 after extended negotiations regarding the program's budget.
Data on Ambient Air Pollution in Israel
Figure 1: Ambient Air Monitoring Stations in Israel
The National Air Monitoring System in Israel includes over 140 monitoring stations which are managed by a range of different bodies: municipal environmental assocations, the Israel Electric Company, industry, port authorities, bus stations, and the MoEP. Air monitoring data are available on the National Air Monitoring Network website.
The MoEP distinguishes between two types of monitoring stations: traffic monitoring stations and general monitoring stations. Traffic stations measure primary pollutants emitted from vehicles, such as nitrogen oxides/nitrogen dioxide (NOx/NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), PM2.5, and VOCs (such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and 1, 3-Butadiene). General stations measure airborne pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides/nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and PM.
Sources and Composition of Particulate Matter in Israel
Israel has high background levels of PM, from local natural dust and long range transport of PM from neighboring countries. On average, over 50% of PM2.5 levels in Israel are due to long range transport, mostly from Europe and the Mediterranean basin. During the winter and in transition seasons, levels are especially high due to long range transport from the Sahara and Arabian Deserts. Anthropogenic contaminants that may adsorb onto dust particles during their transport exacerbate adverse health effects resulting from exposure to these particles. Local sources of particulates in Israel include combustion processes in power plants, industry, transportation, and home heating, in addition to photochemical oxidation of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and VOCs. Within major metropolitan cities in Israel, anthropogenic sources of PM are primarily transportation sources, including diesel engines. Research has shown that circulation patterns affect PM composition in Israel more than local emissions.
Ambient Air Quality in Israel
According to the WHO ambient air pollution database update from 2014, Israel is ranked as the 24th highest out of 90 countries for annual mean PM10 and 44th highest for annual mean PM2.5. Within Israel, the highest annual PM10 levels were in Ashkelon, followed by Modi'in, while the highest PM2.5 levels were in Modi'in, followed by Beer Sheva and Beit Shemesh. However, this analysis has several limitations. First, the comparison was based on data from 2010, during which there were many dust storms in Israel, and on data from monitoring stations that are positioned in Israel relatively close to emissions sources. In addition, the comparison considered only PM and not additional ambient pollutants with considerable public health impact.
While PM emissions have decreased by about 30% since 2000, annual ambient PM10 concentrations remained stable (Figure 2). PM2.5 concentrations, which range between 17–29 μg/m3 vary considerably according to region in Israel. For ozone, annual average concentrations remained stable during 2000–2012 at most monitoring stations (Figure 3). In many areas in Israel, the eight-hour average ozone concentrations exceed WHO recommendations, including in large urban areas such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Beer Sheva, primarily due to heavy transport pressures.
Figure 2: Annual PM10 Concentrations at Selected Monitoring Stations in Israel, 2000–2012
Figure 3: Annual Ozone Concentrations at Selected Monitoring Stations in Israel, 2000-2012
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Environmental Performance Review for Israel from 2011, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions have steadily decreased due to improvements in fuel quality and improved vehicle technology. On the other hand, emissions of a few types of VOCs have continued to increase. There has been a steady decrease in ambient levels of nitric oxide between 2001 and 2012, a slight decrease in ambient nitrogen dioxide levels, and a slight decrease in ambient sulfur dioxide levels. Figures 4 and 5 show the geographic variability of these pollutants in 2012.
Figure 4+5: Annual Mean Concentrations of NO2, 2012 SO2 Daily Concentrations, 2012
Data on Health Effects Associated with Air Pollution in Israel
National data are available for health outcomes associated with ambient air pollution, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer in the adult population. However, as these data have not been linked to data on air pollution, it is difficult to ascertain the air pollution-related incidence of these diseases on a national level. National data on health outcomes in children in Israel are limited. For example, the most recent national data on asthma prevalence in children are from 2008.
As part of a cost-benefit analysis conducted within the framework of the National Pollution Reduction and Prevention Program, adverse health effects associated with exceeding target levels of selected air pollutants were calculated for 2015 and 2020 based on modeled air concentrations. Adverse health effects associated with current monitored ambient air pollution have not been calculated on a national level.
Table 2: Predicted Health Effects Associated with Ambient Air Pollution above the Target Value, 2015 and 2020
The cost associated with exceeding the target values for PM and ozone was estimated at NIS 22 billion in 2015 and NIS 24 billion in 2020.
Research on Ambient Air Pollution in Israel: Exposure Assessment and Health Effects
Between 2010 and 2014 Israeli research groups published more than 25 articles on air pollution and health outcomes, including studies on childhood asthma, risk of ischemic stroke, postmyocardial infarction mortality, respiratory effects, congenital heart defects, cancer incidence, and reduced functional capacity.
Many studies have focused on populations in northern Israel, including those in Hadera and Haifa. In addition, Israeli researchers published articles on remote sensing and air pollution, evaluating multi-pollutant exposure in urban settings, and a new bacterial bioassay for toxicity of particulate air pollution.
- Researchers from the Technion Center of Excellence in Exposure Science and Environmental Health (TCEEH) are studying exposure to ambient air pollution in heterogeneous urban areas and exposure to pesticide drift at agricultural-residential interfaces. TCEEH researchers are building a ready-to-use air pollution database, available to the research community.
- Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Technion are studying relationships between exposure to air pollutants and traffic-related ambient pollutants in particular and recurrentcardiovascular events, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and frailty.
- Researchers from the Technion Faculty of Biomedical Engineering are developing cytotoxicity assays of inhaled toxic ultrafine particles on alveolar epithelial cells.
- Researchers from the University of Haifa and the Ministry of Health are studying the impact of air pollution on birth outcomes including low birth weight.
- Researchers at the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy, Weizmann Institute of Science, and Tel Aviv University are studying the impact of air pollution on reproductive outcomes following in vitro fertilization and spontaneous pregnancies.
- Researchers from Ben-Gurion University are studying the relationship between emissions from industrial sources and child health, including mental and motor development in the first years of life.
- Researchers from Ben-Gurion University are studying the impact of chronic and acute exposure to soil-derived airborne particles on pulmonary and ischemic heart disease in the northern Negev.
- Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are studying the association between exposure to traffic-related air pollution in adolescence and health status at age 17, as well as with cancer incidence and cause-specific mortality in adulthood.
- Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are using telemedicine to assess associations between acute cardiovascular events and ambient PM air pollution in the Tel Aviv and Haifa metropolitan areas.
Progress and Challenges
- The Clean Air Law, which came into force in 2011, marks major progress in establishing a comprehensive regulatory framework for improving ambient air quality in Israel. The Clean Air Regulations passed in 2011 and the regulations which will enter into force in 2015 are expected to lead to reductions in concentrations of ambient contaminants in Israel and to a reduction in air pollution-related morbidity and mortality. However, for many ambient air pollutants with major public health effects, ambient air quality standards are significantly higher than the target values. Both the target values and the air quality standards need to be re-evaluated periodically (within five years) to ensure that the Clean Air Regulations are indeed protective of public health.
- Ambient concentrations of PM10, ozone and nitrogen oxides continue to exceed maximum limit values in major metropolitan areas. Adoption of the National Pollution Reduction and Prevention Program is expected to lead to reductions in ambient air pollution emissions of VOCs, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and benzene but not PM. Since the Treasury funded only a modified form of the National Pollution Reduction and Prevention Program, the decrease in emissions will not be as significant as intended by the original program.
- Transport demand and private car ownership are increasing steadily in Israel. Measures to reduce transport emissions have included adoption of European standards for imported vehicles, fuel quality, and vehicle tests. There are significant challenges in integrating transport and land use planning, improving alternatives to private car use, and promoting sustainable urban design.
- The National Air Monitoring Network is one of the densest in the world and data are widely available to the general public and to researchers. Lack of uniformity in data collection and quality control among different monitoring stations hinders the reliability of the data collected prior to June 2013. Since then, improvements in the MoEP guidelines and procedures for monitoring ambient air have led to improvements in data comparability from different monitoring systems. However, spatial distribution of monitoring stations is uneven and data are lacking on ambient air levels in selected geographical areas in Israel.
- To date, there is no strategy for regular sampling of air pollutants that cannot be monitored continuously, including PM-bound metals, persistent organic pollutants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and polybrominated diphenylethers.
This chapter and all other chapters in the report was written by a team of scientists and professionals from the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Environment and Health Fund.
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