Last update - 15:05 13/08/2007
By Mijal Greenberg, Haaretz Correspondent
Firefighting teams Monday successfully contained the toxic chemical leak at the Makhteshim Chemical Works factory. Three people were lightly injured in an explosion that occurred shortly before noon at the factory in the Ramat Hovav industrial zone in the Negev.
The explosion damaged a tank containing organophosphorus compounds used in the production of insecticides, releasing unknown quantities of the chemicals into the air.
The cause of the explosion is still unknown.
The substance could cause respiratory problems and nerve damage. Many organophosphates are potent neurotoxins, functioning by inhibiting the action of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in nerve cells. They are one of the most common causes of poisoning worldwide.
Police have closed Route 40, the main road in the area.
Environmental Protection Ministry teams found traces of the dangerous chemicals in Bedouin communities in the surrounding area. Bedouins said that police contacted them and asked them to evacuate the area.
The factory's workers returned to work after they were evacuated to a safe zone to protect them from the toxins.
Green Party Chairman Pe'er Wisner said the explosion is further proof that the Israel Defense Forces should rethink its plannes to build a base near Ramat Hovav. "Barak must act to alter the decision to build the base near Ramat Hovav, and prevent the needless harming of soldiers," he said.
Makhteshim Chemical Works Ltd. is Israel's main producer and exporter of crop protection chemicals.