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February 10, 2005:
SPIC Pharmaceuticals was caught burning huge amounts of date expired medicines in Pallikarnai marsh in Perungudi

SPIC Pharmaceuticals was caught red-handed burning about 200 to 300 kg of date-expired medicines on the National Highway near the Pallikaranai marshlands in Perungudi, near Chennai, today. Activists from Chennai-based Consumer Action Group and Toxics Link were first to reach the spot, and intimate local authorities.


Ragpickers scavenging through the smouldering pile of medicines dumped by SPIC Pharma.

Medicines ranging from injections to antibiotics were dumped in the open and burnt at about 2 p.m. The dump was smouldering at least until 5.30 p.m. even after the Fire Department intervened to put out the fire. About a dozen ragpickers, including two young ones aged about 8, were found sorting through the smouldering pile with bare feet to scavenge material for resale.

The fire brigade finally put the fire out but failed to keep rag pickers away from getting exposed to the toxic fumes of the medicines.

SPIC Pharmaceuticals was caught red-handed burning about 200 to 300 kg of date-expired medicines on the National Highway near the Pallikaranai marshlands in Perungudi, near Chennai, today. Activists from Chennai-based Consumer Action Group and Toxics Link were first to reach the spot, and intimate local authorities.

Medicines ranging from injections to antibiotics were dumped in the open and burnt at about 2 p.m. The medicines were manufactured in Maraimalai Nagar, and brought in from SPICís godown in Guindy, Chennai. The dump was smouldering at least until 5.30 p.m. even after the Fire Department intervened to put out the fire. About a dozen ragpicker children, including two young ones aged about 8, were found sorting through the smouldering pile with bare feet to scavenge material for resale.

The fire brigade finally put the fire out but failed to keep rag pickers away from getting exposed to the toxic fumes of the medicines.

Sudhakar of Consumer Action Group (CAG) informed us about the incident at about 4 pm. He told us that shards of glass from exploding vials and bottles were flying around the dumpsite. We were also told that the fire brigade and a Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board official were already on the spot taking stock of the situation.

At the time of our visit around 5 p.m., there was a strong smell of cough medicine, ointment and acid in the air. One of the ragpickers, Kumaresan (35 years), complained of dizziness after his exposure to the fumes while scavenging from the waste pile. Kumaresan also said that the odour was a lot stronger before the fire was put out.


Date-expired medicines burnt by SPIC Pharma, Chennai

From conversations with the Pollution Control Board officials, it was not clear as to what action would be taken against the company besides requiring them to clean up and take back the wastes. The company hired about six casual labourers from the nearby area and a van (TN 04 E 0475) to clean up the place and transport the waste back. Even as the crude clean-up by unprotected workers was under progress, SPIC officials onsite were being advised by the labourers to dump inside the marshlands the next time, and to avoid noticeable places like National Highways. Pallikaranai marshlands, a natural ecosystem of vital importance, has been used as a garbage and sewage dumping ground by the Chennai Municipal corporation and the French garbage company Onyx Environmental Systems.

The company did not follow any scientific protocol to clean up the place. Workers engaged in the task were not provided with shoes, gloves or masks.


Ragpickers, including two children (extreme left), rummaging through burnt-out pile of date-expired medicines.

A police complaint with Pallikaranai police station was filed in the matter.

SPIC Pharma runs a penicillin factory in SIPCOT Cuddalore. Fenceline communities living around the factory consider SPIC to be one of the more serious polluters in the industrial estate.

List of medicines dumped and burnt: (some of the medicines are by trade name and some by the chemicals)

Paracetamol Injection
Roxythroxycin Tablets
Lovanthin
Spicmox
Amoxycillin Trihydrate
Asrex Plus
Biopep

   
   
   
   
   
   
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