Technion researchers have helped the Ministry of Environmental Protection reduce fuel leaks into the ground by tens of thousands of cubic meters. This represents a dramatic reduction of the health risk inherent in the seepage of fuel into groundwater.
Fuel is an essential resource for the existence of modern life, yet it is also a dangerous poison; its penetration into the body can be hazardous to health in various ways, including cancer and damage to the nervous system, the immune system, fertility, the liver, kidneys and red blood cells. Therefore, Israel, like other countries, has set limits on the quantity of fuel components in drinking water.
Fuel components reach drinking water as a result of leaks from damaged pipes and fuel tanks. Fuel seeping into the soil and groundwater (aquifer) is liable to reach the human body not only from drinking water but also from the inhalation of fuel vapor in the soil and from contact with contaminated soil. Benzene, one of the hazardous materials in fuel, does not decompose quickly and is liable to migrate in the soil up to a distance of a few dozen meters, thereby reaching open public spaces and even private gardens.
Because of these risks, the Ministry of Environmental Protection promulgated the Water Regulations in 1997, which focus on the prevention of water pollution by fuel. In addition, the Ministry contacted experts from the Davidson Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management at the Technion, requesting the following services: monitoring the impermeability of the underground infrastructure (fuel tanks and pipes) at gas stations and ensuring that they are in good condition, monitoring the repair and replacement of facilities and devices found to be leaking, and monitoring and providing engineering solutions with regard to the various testing methods. Indeed, over the past 16 years, following the implementation of the Technion experts’ recommendations, there has been a dramatic reduction in the total volume of fuel leaks in Israel, mostly leaks from gas stations. The Ministry estimated that thanks to these measures, the total leakage was reduced by 3,500 cubic meters per year at the very least (over the past 12 years), thanks to the monitoring and servicing of underground tanks and underground pipes at gas stations. In other words, within 12 years, leaks were reduced by a total of more than 42,000 cubic meters.
The Technion research team, whose members include Prof. Dov Ingman (team leader), Dr. Chaim Michlin, and Ms. Yelena Leschenko, recently submitted a final report reviewing the developments over the past 16 years. According to the findings, despite the considerable improvement there are still leaks that jeopardize the soil and groundwater. Therefore, the researchers recommend expanding the activity to include the national fuel pipeline and particularly large overhead tanks.
The monitoring system developed at the Technion includes fuel leakage monitoring, data collection and analysis, monitoring the reliability and integrity of tanks and pipelines, and employing statistical means to predict future defects in the infrastructure. The ongoing study has already led to the publication of eight articles in professional journals, and the information accumulated is already being used in courses taught by Dr. Michlin (Reliability Management and Reliability Engineering) at the Technion, and in other studies conducted by the research team. Inter alia, innovative testing methods developed on the basis of the study as part of Ofer Shaham’s doctoral work have been implemented in the national standard, and an international committee is currently deliberating the implementation of the methods in the ISO (International Standard Organization) standards.
Now, in light of the above interim study and in preparation for the expansion of the study in the years ahead, the Ministry of Environmental Protection sent a letter to Prof. Wayne Kaplan, Executive Vice President for Research at the Technion. The letter, signed by Dr. Arie Pistiner, the official in charge of the prevention of water pollution from fuel, stated that: “The work done so far by the Technion team has been very helpful to our Ministry in promoting the issue of preventing leaks from fuel pipelines and tanks into soil and groundwater, and has contributed greatly to environmental protection in Israel.”
Dr. Pistiner, an alumnus of the Technion Faculty of Civil And Environmental Engineering, did his doctorate on precisely this subject: Migration of Fuel Pollutants in Groundwater.
The study was supported in its early stages by the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and later by the Division of Industrial Waste, Fuel and Polluted Soil at the Ministry.