21 August, 2007. Kodaikanal:— A 2006 study published in reputed scientific journal “Environmental Pollution” by the Department of Atomic Energy confirms that Kodaikanal’s lakes have been contaminated by mercury emissions from Hindustan Lever’s thermometer factory. The report was discussed at a meeting organised at the Methodist Church Hall by Tamilnadu Environment Council, Tamilnadu Women’s Collective (Kodaikanal), Kodaikanal Lake Protection Council and The Other Media.
The report titled “Studies of mercury pollution in a lake due to a thermometer factory situated in a tourist resort: Kodaikkanal, India” found that three major lakes (Kodaikanal, Berijam and Kookkal) were already showing varying levels of contamination. Mercury levels in water are between 10 and 80 times higher than levels expected to be found in uncontaminated waters, the study revealed. The levels of mercury in the sediment are already above safe levels, while levels in Kookkal and Berijam are approaching unsafe levels. In a discovery with serious ramifications on lake fish consumers and fish-eating birds and animals, researchers found significant levels of mercury in the fish collected from Kodaikanal lake, with nearly half the mercury in the fish present as methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is a highly toxic form of mercury that was responsible for death and disease of hundreds of people in the seaside town of Minamata in Japan. Poisoned by contaminated fish, Minamata’s residents have suffered the long-term effects of methyl mercury since the 1950s when a local factory discharged its mercury-wastes into the nearby sea.
Mr. Navroz Mody, Environmentalist and a resident of Kodaikanal explained the findings and implications of the study. “Even very small levels of mercury can seriously contaminate large waterbodies. The fact that several tons have been discharged to the environment, and that several thousand tons of mercury-contaminated material remains buried at the factory site will pose a long-term threat to Kodaikanal’s environment unless quick and effective action is taken to remedy the situation,” he said. “Environmental remediation must be conducted to international standards by experienced persons and in the presence of independent experts nominated by the public. Otherwise, the clean-up itself will lead to more contamination,” he said.
The authors of the study categorically state that the source of the pollution is the thermometer factory. Air- and water-borne mercury emissions from the factory have contaminated large areas of Kodaikanal and the surrounding forests. Indeed, the company admits that more than 2000 kg of mercury has escaped into the environment from its factory over the years.
Frighteningly, a number of other watersheds have not been completely studied for mercury contamination. A study commissioned by Hindustan Lever found sediment mercury levels at more than 1400 times above safe levels prescribed by the US Environmental Protection Agency in a water course emptying into the Pambarai Stream. The stream runs into the Kumbakarai falls, and flows towards the plains carrying the mercury-laden sediment over long-distances.
Hindustan Lever was forced to close its factory in 2001, after ex-workers and residents revealed that the company had dumped several tons of mercury wastes at a scrapyard in Moonjikal, a densely populated part of Kodaikanal, and in the Pambar Shola, a highly biodiverse forest behind the factory. The factory was relocated to India in 1984 after it was closed down in Watertown, New York, at a time when concerns over mercury’s toxic effects was leading to the phase-out of mercury products in the USA. Several thousand tons of toxic waste and contaminated soil are still lying inside and outside the factory. Unfortunately, the Pollution Control Board and the company are working closely to keep the clean-up plans a closely guarded secret. The TNPCB also does not want any public oversight of the clean-up.
The following people attended the meeting.
Sam Babu, Convenor, KLPC
Antony Samy, Convenor, TNEC
For more details contact:
Shweta Narayan 94440 24315 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Navroz Mody 98198 35937 ( email@example.com )