ICL says level of damage caused by desert spill still unknown

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Potash and fertilizer producer Israel Chemicals (ICL) said on Sunday it cannot estimate the level of damage caused to the company or the environment by a spill at its fertilizer plant in Israel’s Negev desert.

Large amounts of highly acidic wastewater poured into the desert on Friday when a wall of an evaporation pool partially collapsed at the Rotem Amfert facility, according to Israel’s Ministry of Environment.

Some of the tens of thousands of cubic meters were diverted to another pool, but much of the wastewater made its way to a river bed that snakes through the desert, causing “severe ecological damage”, the ministry said.

ICL, which has exclusive rights in Israel to mine minerals from the Dead Sea, said it was working with authorities to contain the spill.

“The company cannot estimate the full impact of the incident at the Rotem factory, including the environmental and financial impact, and whether it will lead to legal proceedings,” it said in a statement.

The ministry said it ordered ICL to stop using a series of evaporation pools at the factory and it was considering opening a criminal investigation into the incident.

ICL, controlled by holding company Israel Corp, produces about a third of the world’s bromine and is the sixth-largest potash producer.

The Rotem factory manufactures phosphate-based products, leading to downstream derivatives such as phosphoric acids, fertilisers, specialty chemicals and phosphate salts.

ICL said it has requested to use an alternative pool as a temporary fix and that it is working with help from outside experts to find short and long term solutions.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle