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Haifa's cancer morbidity blamed on refinery pollution

Ministry of Health denies that air pollution causes high morbidity rate, but numbers tell a different story.

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The Ministry of Health and the Israel Cancer Association published on Monday a report on cancer morbidity in Israel, classified by region, between the years 2001 to 2015.

The data showed a significantly higher morbidity rate in Haifa than the rest of the country, a fact that has been the center of controversy for years due to the belief that the higher cancer rate is a consequence of air pollution caused by the oil refinery situated in Haifa bay. Ashkelon, which hosts a coal plant, also had a unusually high rate of cancer morbidity, strengthening the argument that the rate is connected to air pollution. The report, however, denied the direct connection between the cancer morbidity rate and air pollution, or any other single cause, stating that the cancer morbidity rate is a result of several factors, including genetic, behavioral, hormonal and environmental reasons. The report also stated that the connection between environmental pollution and cancer morbidity is problematic due to the fact that the place of diagnosis does not always coincide with the location in which the patient was first exposed to or developed cancerous cells.

Additionally, because the report is divided into districts it does not necessarily reflect typical local exposures. In order to prove a direct connection between air pollution and cancer morbidity, academic research would need to take the different changing factors into account, the report stated.

MK Yael Cohen Paran of the Zionist Union, who is also the representative of the environmental movement and chairman of the lobby for the recovery of Haifa Bay, reacted angrily to the report: "The Ministry of Health is denying the truth with a miserable statement, it is not coincidental that in the Haifa and Ashkelon regions there are more occurrences of cancer."

She accused the Ministry of Health of comfortably ignoring the facts screaming from the report saying. "These areas are known to be hot spots [...] that poison the air and soil," and "instead of taking responsibility and caring for the health of the residents, the Ministry of Health sows sand in the public's eyes, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection lacks the ability to ensure effective enforcement."

Haifa Municipality Council member and mayoral candidate , Avihu Han, together with "The Greens of Haifa" which he heads, also claimed that "no one has any doubt that the Haifa region has significantly more cancer occurrences due to the pollution from the petrochemical industry and the polluting facilities in Haifa Bay."

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