Pestilence in the Holy Land: an Affliction of Asbestos

The land of Israel–both ancient and modern–has long been a bone of contention. In ancient times, the area was fought over by Hittites and Babylonians, among others; Greek and Roman occupiers often had their hands full with the rebellious natives of the country. Later, the land was part of the Byzantine, Ottoman, and ultimately, the British Empires. For numerous reasons, the modern nation of Israel has had to become a virtual armed camp simply to survive; tragedies such as happened in the U.S. in 1993, 1995, and 2001 are a daily fact of life for Israelis. And now, there’s asbestos…

Several dozen sites in the historic Nahariya area, a major tourist center on the Mediterranean coast, have been found to be contaminated with asbestos, according to a survey conducted by the Environmental Union of Western Galilee Municipalities. At least 11 of these sites are described as being “in urgent need of treatment to prevent the carcinogenic dust from dispersing and endangering public health.” Because the survey covered only public sites and not private property, it is likely that the problem is much worse than it appears. Nahariya is located just north of the ancient city of Akko (Acre). The city was a major port in ancient times and a base of operations during the Crusades that took place from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries of the Common Era; today, it is the site of a great deal of archaeological study. The city of Nahariya itself was founded during the 1930s by Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

Because of its location, the city soon became a resort and tourist destination. However, it was also the home of a major asbestos company, Eitanit. Over the years, Eitanit produced tons of asbestos-containing materials, which were sold to local residents for use in building projects. Surplus asbestos found its way into highways, streets, access roads, and parking lots. As a result, there has been a dramatic rise in the rate of mesothelioma among local residents. Sixty percent of the sites surveyed were found to contain asbestos; many of these are found in roads that access agricultural sites. It is estimated that these sites contain as much as 30,000 meters of potentially dangerous asbestos waste.