Thursday, 15 November , 2007
By K. Sreedevi
Chennai: Chemplast Sanmar, the Chennai-based PVC major, is alleged to be dumping close to 28 chemicals into the river Cauvery from its plastic manufacturing unit in Mettur, the industrial town situated on the northwest of Tamil Nadu. Of these chemicals, five are reported to be carcinogenic.
According to a report titled “Unfolding Disaster: A Study of Chemplast’s Toxic Contamination in Mettur” released by Chennai-based NGO, Community Environmental Monitoring (CEM), at least six of these 28 chemicals exceed safety standards and Mettur’s environment is contaminated with dioxins, furans and 52 other toxic chemicals, including mercury. Cauvery is the major water source in Tamil Nadu catering to drinking and irrigation needs of about 13 districts.
Nityanand Jayaram of CEM said Mark Chernaik, a staff scientist of the US-based Environmental Law Alliance and Ruth Stringer, an independent scientist, who conducted the tests, found high levels of mercury and di- and tri-chlorobenzenes in soil samples taken from storm water drains and rainwater channels flowing into the Cauvery.
Dioxins, furans and hexachlorobenzene are among 12 dangerous chemicals short-listed for a global phase out under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP). India is a signatory to this convention committed to reducing and eliminating all sources of POPs due to their unmanageable health risks.
Dr Rakhal Gaitonde, a public health expert who reviewed the report said, “the possible combined effect of exposure to 52 chemicals points to nothing less than a public health disaster.” The study was undertaken at the behest of the West Gonur Farmers Welfare Association following complaints from residents and farmers against the plastics major of contaminating aquifers, farmlands, streams and the Cauvery river.
Chemplast officials, however, refute the findings calling the allegations “totally baseless”. “While Chemplast Sanmar, not even manufactures 28 different chemicals, the allegation does not make any sense. Any chemical is a poison beyond the dose level. The dose/toxicity level in India is fixed by Central Pollution Control Board and enforced by the State Pollution Control Board. The treated effluents from the plants are well in compliance with the stipulated norms,” they claim.
“Ironically, the dumping allegations against the company has surfaced barely two days after Chemplast released its ‘Sustainability Report 2007’ highlighting its commitment to an environment-friendly production units at Mettur, Karaikal and Cuddalore. ”