March 23rd, 2008
Chennai, March 23 (IANS) People living in and around a special economic zone in Cuddalore are “2,000 times more” likely to be affected by cancer than the normal population, says a report prepared for the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. In a normal sample population, cancer occurs in one person in a million. But in and around the State Industries Promotion Corp of Tamil Nadu known as SIPCOT industrial park nearly 300 km south of Chennai, two in every thousand are likely to have cancer, say anti-pollution campaigners.
The Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has prepared the report.
The study confirms the decades-old complaints by local residents that pollution from the chemical factories in the park is worst at night, especially in the village of Eachangadu.
The NEERI submitted the report in August 2007 to TNPCB without any public information. It came to light after an RTI plea by the local environment watchdog, Community Environment Monitoring (CEM).
The TNPCB commissioned the NEERI study in response to a 2004 report “Gas Trouble”, released by the SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors, highlighting the presence of at least 22 toxic gases in the air over SIPCOT.
The study mandated special reference to volatile organic compounds so that the Tamil Nadu government could take remedial action.
Several studies of air pollution around the SIPCOT industrial park found 94 chemicals in the ambient air, including 15 known as hazardous air pollutants.
In September 2004, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes directed the TNPCB to bring down pollution levels or shut errant industries in SIPCOT by December that year. Nothing has happened so far.
The NEERI study found that areas near Shasun Chemicals, and the village of Eachangadu, were the worst affected.
Risk levels near Asian Paints and Tagros Chemicals are also high, the report said.
According to the report, children, elderly and the infirm were the most vulnerable. NEERI attributes this to “air transport of pollutants”.
Levels of Benzene – a chemical that causes blood cancer among children – were 125 times higher than safe levels.
Other carcinogens like chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride and trichloroethylene were 881, 553, 32.5 and 21.8 times respectively higher than acceptable levels, the NEERI report said.
NEERI says “the results are a conservative estimate” as “most of the industries are not operating to capacity on days of sampling”.
“If all the industries in the study area function to the full capacity, it may be expected that concentrations of pollutants will increase three-fold,” the institute told TNPCB.
In 2007, SACEM documented nine serious air pollution incidents that injured more than 150 people in the neighbourhood.
“The results confirm our worst fears – that SIPCOT is a gas chamber – and that the government has decided to sacrifice Cuddalore residents to cancer and other avoidable diseases,” Nityanand Jayaraman, advisor to the Community Environmental Monitoring, said.
“The TNPCB has neither the vision nor the political will to regulate pollution,” he added.
Activists point to how for almost a year now, the NEERI report has been lying with the TNPCB, but the government has taken no remedial action.
Instead, “the Tamil Nadu government is setting up more polluting units, many without proper clearances”.