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Decades late, a study proves a link between exposure to pollution in Haifa and an increase of up to 16% in the incidence of cancer compared to the national average

A new study supported and funded by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and carried out by researchers from the Hebrew University, Hadassah, the Technion, the Medical Corps and the National Center for Disease Control of the Ministry of Health, provides evidence that environmental exposure to industrial air pollution in the Haifa Bay at a young age is associated with cancer incidence between 1967 and 2012.

The refineries and the polluting combination, in a photo from the University of Haifa, July 2022. Photo: Avi Blizovsky
The refineries and the polluting combination, in a photo from the University of Haifa, July 2022. Photo: Avi Blizovsky
Air pollution 1987. Published in Kalvo newspaper, June 19, 1987. Part II
Air pollution 1987. Published in Kalvo newspaper, June 19, 1987. Haifa is a leader in lung cancer and asthma, Ministry of Health: the figure is known, but we did not investigate the connection to environmental pollution. To the full article

A new study supported and funded by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and carried out by researchers from the Hebrew University, Hadassah, the Technion, the Medical Corps and the National Center for Disease Control of the Ministry of Health, provides evidence that environmental exposure to industrial air pollution in the Haifa Bay at a young age is associated with cancer incidence between 1967 and 2012.

The study examined the years before the national plan for Haifa Bay led by the ministry, the implementation of which resulted in a significant reduction in pollutant emissions in Haifa Bay; The Ministry of Environmental Protection continues to work to promote the government's decision to evacuate the petrochemical industry from Haifa Bay.

Minister of Environmental Protection, Tamar Zandberg: "The study points to the urgent need to evacuate the petrochemical industry from Haifa Bay, and provide the residents of the city and the northern metropolis with clean air, health and quality of life. The government's decision to evacuate the factories that we received this year is a step in the right direction, and its implementation must be accelerated and Israel must be promoted to an era of zero fossil fuel economy"

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A new study supported and funded by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, indicates a link between environmental exposure to industrial air pollution in Haifa Bay and cancer incidence Between the years 1967 and 2012.

The results of the research are published as part of a call for proposals by the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The study was conducted by Prof. Raanan Raz from the School of Public Health and the Center for Sustainability at the Hebrew University, in collaboration with Prof. David Brodai from the Technion, Prof. Gilad Twig from the Medical Corps and the Gartner Institute, Prof. Little Kinan-Booker from the University of Haifa and the National Center for Disease Control at the Ministry of Health and researchers more This study is in accordance with section 10 of the government's decision to reduce air pollution and reduce environmental risks in the Haifa Bay area from 2015.

The study provides evidence that living in areas exposed to industrial air pollution in the Haifa Bay is associated with cancer incidence between 1967 and 2012. The study found that between these years, exposure to industrial air pollution in Haifa Bay was associated with an increased risk of getting cancer between 7% and 16% (after adjusting for sex, year of birth, type of settlement, country of origin, exposure to nitrogen oxides and cognitive score) depending on the extent of exposure to the pollution Industrial air, in cases of: breast cancer in women, cancer of the central nervous system, head and neck cancer, leukemia, melanoma and thyroid cancer.

In addition to examining cancer, the study found that in the years examined, there was an excess morbidity of asthma diseases along with other atopic (allergic) diseases in the Haifa Bay compared to the reference group of subjects outside the Bay. However, unlike cancer, the study did not find that this excess morbidity was linked to exposure to industrial air pollution, because in the areas most exposed to industrial pollution no excess presence of the disease was observed.

The study does not rule out possible effects of the industrial air pollution in Haifa on asthma attacks (in asthmatic children), or the effect of this pollution on other health outcomes.

This study shows that the age-standardized rate of cancer reported by the Ministry of Health in periodic reports for more than a decade may be related to exposure to air pollution from industrial sources.

This study provides additional scientific reinforcement for the need to evacuate the petrochemical industry from Haifa Bay, and move it away from population concentrations. In March 2022, the Israeli government approved a decision to end petrochemical activity in the Haifa Bay within a decade and promote a plan to develop infrastructure and economic growth engines in the bay. This decision was made on the basis of the summary report of the committee of CEOs that was promoted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Prime Minister's Office, and examined the issue.

In the last decade, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has been working hard to significantly reduce emissions of polluting substances in the Haifa Bay. Among other things, the ministry led the plan to reduce air pollution in Haifa Bay between 2015 and 2020 - that is, after the years examined in the study.

Over the years, there has been a significant improvement in the air quality in Haifa Bay: during the years of the program, there was a 56% reduction in emissions of volatile organic pollutants in Haifa Bay - which include carcinogenic substances. The plan emphasized the emissions of these pollutants and even succeeded in exceeding the target set (which was 48% in relation to emissions in 2014). In addition, after the years examined in the study, there was a transition to mineral gas, which significantly lowered nitrogen oxides, which polluted and harmed public health.

Over the years, the office carries out supervision and enforcement against the factories, hearings, warnings, orders and financial sanctions for violations. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection's level report for 2020, cumulative reductions in the emission of pollutants into the air of 44% to 95% occurred in Haifa Bay from 2012 to 2020, depending on the pollutant.

Expansion on the study:

The Haifa Bay area is one of the largest metropolises in Israel and contains a large and diverse industrial area that includes, among other things, a refinery and a petrochemical complex, a power plant and many factories. Haifa Bay is not unusual in Israel today in terms of concentrations of criteria pollutants in the air compared to other metropolitan areas in Israel, however the environmental emissions registry and other data show that many facilities in the bay emit significant amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals, some of which are harmful to human health.

The research carried out as part of the calling voice of the chief scientist at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, examined the relationship between industrial air pollution and the incidence of cancer, asthma and other atopic (allergic) diseases in Haifa Bay. The research was accompanied and approved by an accompanying committee that included the personnel of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Health, who specialize in the field.

The exposure to industrial air pollution in Haifa Bay was assessed by an exposure model built for the purpose of this study, based on sulfur dioxide data from the monitoring stations in 2002-2004, in areas where these concentrations could be largely attributed to emissions from industrial sources.

The study population to examine the link to cancer in adults included all adolescents aged 16-20 who were born in Israel and whose medical condition was assessed for military recruitment by the Israeli Medical Corps from 1967 to 2012, of whom 59% were men. In total, 2,187,317 adolescents were tested. The follow-up period began on the date of the examination and ended on the date of the first cancer diagnosis, death or end of follow-up (31.12.2012), whichever is earlier.

These years examined are before the massive reductions carried out in Haifa Bay, and before the national plan to reduce air pollution in the bay led by the ministry. In addition, the transition to mineral gas significantly reduced nitrogen oxides, which polluted and harmed public health.

The connections found in the study between industrial air pollution in Haifa Bay and cancer incidence are consistent with a causal effect of industrial air pollution in Haifa Bay on the risk of these diseases in accordance with what is known in the scientific literature. However, no connection was found with types of cancer that are known to be associated with air pollution in a significant way (eg lung cancer).

The cancer follow-up in the study included a follow-up of 41,696,278 person-years. Over 45 years, 47,129 participants were diagnosed with cancer, with a crude incidence rate of 142.8 cases per 100,000 person-years in the non-exposed group - residents of the rest of the country, and 171.5, 171.7 and 174.8 cases per 100,000 person-years in the low, medium and high exposure groups in Haifa Bay, respectively.

The most common cancer in the entire population, as well as in the Haifa Bay population, was breast cancer in women, followed by melanoma. Among men, the most common cancer was in the reproductive organs.

The study found that in the years 1967-2012, exposure to industrial air pollution in the Haifa Bay is associated with an increased risk of getting cancer in the range of 7%-16% (after adjusting for the relevant variables) relative to the rest of the country, in cases of breast cancer in women, cancer of the central nervous system, head cancer and neck, leukemia, melanoma and thyroid cancer.

The increased risk of some cancer may indicate that exposure to industrial air pollution in the Haifa Bay contains several chemical substances that work in different biological mechanisms to increase the risk of various cancers.

However, it should be noted that the researchers did not have the opportunity to take into account factors that may also be significant in the development of cancer, such as smoking or any relevant occupational exposure.

3 תגובות

  1. The greed of the capitalists who control the polluting factories leads to the killing of people. Similarly and in a manner related to this, as on the cigarette packs, stickers are needed: Caution Capitalism kills.

  2. It is still not conclusive, it is clear that toxins in the air have a bad effect on human biology, but there are many other factors that can have an effect, and in particular a lifestyle that can reduce the risk,

    What surprises me is that I would expect to see it also in lymphomas (which was not observed in this study) which can also be caused by various chemical infections (in air, water and food)

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