Untreated municipal and industrial wastes, dating back to the 1930s, were dumped into the river.


One of Israel's worst pollution sites—a seven-kilometer stretch of the Kishon River near the northern city of Haifa that had been tainted for decades by industrial and untreated municipal waste—is set for what officials say is a first-of-its-kind cleanup in the country.

While restrictions, enacted over the last decade, on dumping waste into the river and construction of new wastewater treatment plants have reduced some of the impact of pollution, the planned $55-million project will attempt to clean up accumulated toxic sludges and restore the 74-acre site, which will be incorporated into a planned municipal park.

Last month, Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry and the Kishon Drainage and River Authority announced they would seek international proposals for the project. "The project involves removing one million cubic meters of sediment in the riverbed and biologically treating it," says Haim Hemi, the authority's managing director.

Proposals are due in early October.

The project includes diverting and drying sections of the river and dredging the sludge pools to a depth of 2.5 meters. The pools contain an estimated 280,000 cu m of hydrocarbons, heavy metals, phosphorus, cadmium and arsenic, of which 150,000 cu m will be decontaminated, according to a published report in Israel. An additional 400,000 cu m of riverbed sediments will be dredged and treated.

Waste dumping into the river dates back to the late 1930s, when former ruling British authorities built refineries and other petrochemical facilities in the area, say published reports. More wastes came from fertilizer plants, other industrial facilities and municipal sewage deposits.

Until recently, the Kishon River was the most polluted body of water in Israel. More than a decade ago, doctors discovered an unusually high incidence of cancer among Israeli naval divers who had trained for years in the river. Following a lawsuit filed last year, about 92 divers won compensation for illnesses believed to be related to river toxins, says a report in Israel.

The ministry says its restrictions have led to a return of fish and other wildlife in many parts of the 43-mile river.

The cleanup plan involves the use of dredging equipment to excavate the entire bottom layer of the riverbed, says Hemi. The highly contaminated sediment will be removed through a sealed pipe to a nearby site for biological treatment.

In addition, the current path of the Kishon will be diverted to prevent future flooding in the region. South of where the refineries are located, a 1.5-km stretch will be diverted to an alternative, semicircular channel that will surround the site. There, the dredged sludge will be dumped and decontaminated; microorganisms will break up the toxins.

"We expect the project will be completed three years after the award is made in December," Hemi says, adding that dozens of foreign companies have shown interest in managing the project.

Some project finance disputes remain between the government and industrial firms that have plants along the river.