The country’s air pollution levels underwent a dramatic drop between 2012 and 2013, the Environmental Protection Ministry reported on Tuesday.

An examination of emissions data in the 2013 Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) indicated a sharp decrease in pollution levels, with reductions of up to 40 percent of certain contaminants, the ministry said.

In addition, for the first time, the ministry published a ranking of cities on Tuesday according to total emissions levels, which also takes vehicle-generated air pollution into account.

Nonetheless, air pollution remains particularly problematic in certain areas of the country.

Haifa topped the list of cities plagued by air pollution, even though pollution levels there dropped by almost a third in comparison to the previous year. Tel Aviv came in second, due to the heavy air pollution from transportation in the area, according to the ministry.

The Tamar Regional Council – the area bordering the southern portion of the Dead Sea – ranked third, due to the presence of heavy industry such as Dead Sea Works and the Mishor Rotem Power Station in the region.

Jerusalem was the fourthworst city in terms of air pollution levels, with emissions there also resulting primarily from transportation, the ministry said.

In fifth place was the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council, due to the heavy industry in the area. Rishon Lezion, the Darom Hasharon Regional Council and Ashdod closely trailed Hof Hacarmel.

All in all, compared to 2012, the 2013 nationwide data showed a 19% decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions, a 40% reduction in respirable particles smaller than 10 microns (PM10), and a decrease in nitrogen oxides.

The Environmental Protection Ministry attributed these improvements to the transition of many industrial and power plants to natural gas, as well as requirements that plants reduce air pollution as a condition for operation.

“We will continue to reveal data consistently, in order for every citizen to know exactly what’s in the air he breathes,” said ministry director-general David Lefler. “The data indicates a sharp decline in air pollution compared to the previous year, and this is thanks to the use of natural gas and our actions in industry that brought about the use of advanced and greener technologies.”

This is the second year in a row that the ministry has released factory emissions data, in accordance with an amendment passed in April 2012 requiring industries to report their pollutant releases. The beginning of the project, as part of the adaptation of the United Nations Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, was a condition for Israel’s membership in the OECD.

Israel officially acceded to PRTR – also known as the Kiev Protocol – in January 2013, approximately 10 years after the protocol was first adopted at the Aarhus Convention.

A complete set of data for air pollution emissions from factories is available for public perusal on the Environmental Protection Ministry’s website, as is a color-coded map based on industrial sector. Data has been published for 497 factories and businesses in industry, agriculture, wastewater, hazardous waste and non-hazardous waste, the ministry said.

A statement from the ministry said that most of the emissions reported in the register met Israeli standards of permissible emissions levels.

Rather than condemn these industries, the ministry said it aimed to raise awareness among members of the public regarding their environment.

However, environmental advocacy group Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) called the picture the registry provided “partial” and said that the data “does not reflect the actual situation.”

“The figures published to do not reflect monitoring and measurement of a series of toxic and dangerous substances like mercury and arsenic, which are emitted in large quantities in the country and for which there is no reduction policy,” Adam Teva V’Din executive director Amit Bracha said Tuesday.

Bracha also found it problematic that the ministry attributed the decline in air pollution to the country’s transition to natural gas. He took issue with this explanation because natural gas is a nonrenewable resource that may no longer be available in another generation.

“Instead of boasting about a decline in air pollution, the Environmental Protection Ministry must think about the day after the extraction of natural gas and remember that today there is no policy and no budget for finding alternative energy sources,” he said.

Dr. Arie Wenger, head of the air and energy department at Adam Teva V’Din, argued that the rules regarding air pollution emissions were not all-inclusive and that they failed to provide full protection to public health and the environment.

“Health damages are likely to occur even at environmental levels that meet standards,” he said. “Therefore, it is necessary to examine the biggest sources of emissions and formulate a modern and smart environmental policy to handle them.”

In part, this goal can be accomplished by declaring the country’s pollution hubs “cities struck by air pollution,” he explained.

Also necessary is an overhaul of the National Program to Reduce Air Pollution that would transform the program from “meaningless to a genuine and ambitious plan,” Wenger added.

In response to Adam Teva V’Din’s criticism, the Environmental Protection Ministry said that “it is odd and a shame” that despite receiving the data several weeks ago, the organization “did not yet find the time to tell us what was written in a statement to the media.”

“Contrary to the claims, all pollutants were included in the factory reports, and every person can visit our site and check out exactly what contaminant and which amounts are emitted from every factory,” a ministry spokesman said.

“We will continue to work to increase public transparency on all aspects of the environment in Israel, and look forward to cooperation also from the side of Adam Teva V’Din for the sake of the subject itself.”