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Mettur Villagers expose bias in health study

2 October 2009, Salem: The Deputy Director of Health Services, Salem, has pressed criminal charges against some of the 20 villagers affected by pollution from Chemplast Sanmar's chemical plant in Mettur who met him on 1 October in his office to question him about the unscientific and biased community health study conducted by the Government Medical College under his supervision for Chemplast Sanmar Ltd. The Deputy Director Dr. J. Nirmalson responded to the villagers allegations of a pro-company bias in the Government Medical College's study by threatening to "break your teeth" and "call the police." Dr. Nirmalson's foreword to the Chemplast Study drew sharp criticism from internationally renowned experts in epidemiology and toxicology for his openly favourable bias towards his client Chemplast. Dr. Arthur L. Frank, an eminent epidemiologist and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University, in his critique of the Chemplast health study notes that "any objective review of a health situation should not include such effusive, apparently biased, praise for the group being evaluated." Dr. Nirmalson's foreword to the study on health impacts caused by Chemplast's chemical factories in Mettur dam states that "This extensive health data analysis is one of the new ventures to establish that there is no occupational disease threat to the employees and the nearby community." The authors of the study further state that "Chemplast Sanmar Limited is known for their commitment in occupational health monitoring and industrial hygiene practices. Continuous involvement in improvement of safety, health and environment has brought many laurels to the organisation."

"It is ironic that Dr. Nirmalson wants to initiate police action against us. We sought an appointment with him to give him an opportunity to explain his shoddy science and openly pro-company bias before placing a complaint with the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-corruption," said Piyush Sethia of Speak Out Salem, a public interest group fighting against environmental degradation in Salem district.

"We don't want a report to blindly state that Chemplast's pollution has caused harm. But neither do we expect a public authority like the Government Medical College to compromise its scientific integrity with such a shoddy and made-to-order report," said G. Madeshwaran, a resident of Mettur and Secretary of Gonur West Agriculturists Development Union. According to the villagers who met Dr. Nirmalson on appointment, the Deputy Director was openly hostile to the villagers from the start, and was discourteous. "We were not even asked to sit down. But that was ok. He felt he had no obligation to explain to us or answer our questions. For a public servant to behave like that in the face of clear evidence of a bias in his purportedly scientific study is cause for serious concern and investigation for irregularities," said Madeshwaran.

The activists have decided to lodge a complaint with the Vigilance department, and with Dr. Nirmalson's senior.

In early 2008, Chemplast Sanmar contracted the Government Medical College and Hospital to conduct a health study among Mettur residents to study the effects of the company's chemical factories in the area. This study, that was completed in December 2008, was undertaken to fulfill a condition given by the TNPCB as part of the company's now-expired license to operate, and after intense pressure from citizen groups. Evidence abounds from non-Governmental and Governmental studies, particularly by the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board, that Chemplast's operations have polluted the environment.

Since the Chemplast health study's findings contradicted the history of public complaints of pollution and available facts about the extent of contamination, Community Environmental Monitoring "an organisation working with Mettur farmers on the issue of pollution" circulated the study among experts in epidemiology, toxicology and public heatlh for their critical comments.

All seven experts who reviewed the study agree that the health survey offers no useful insights into the health of the workers and community because of poor methodology and biased sampling. Dr. Annie Thebaud-Mony, Director of Research at the University of Paris' National Institute for Health and Medical Researchstates that, "The methodology and findings suggest a pre-conclusion by the authors that the pollution has no effect among Mettur residents."

Dr. Annie Thebaud-Mony concludes that, "the study is unscientific, and hence unreliable to assess whether and to what extent the community?s health has been affected by pollution from Chemplast Sanmar. The Study lacks integrity and should be disregarded."

Mettur farmers have said they will ask the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board to set aside the study, and commission a new study and charge the company for the costs.

For more information, contact:
Lakshmi Premkumar: lakshmepremkumar@gmail.com

Read the full report:
Critique of the Chemplast Sanmar Limited Health Study
Conducted by Government Mohan Kumaramangalam Medical College and Hospital
July, 2009

   
   
   
   
   
   
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