22 MARCH, 2008. CHENNAI — SIPCOT Cuddalore residents are at least 2000 times more likely to contract cancer in their lifetimes due to their exposure to high levels of toxic gases from chemical industries in the region, according to a scientific report prepared for the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board by Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute. The study of air pollution in and around SIPCOT chemical industrial estate found 94 chemicals in the ambient air, including 15 that are known hazardous air pollutants. The study confirms decades-old complaints by local residents that pollution is worst at night, and that areas near Shasun Chemicals, and the village of Eachangadu are the worst affected. Risk levels near Asian Paints and Tagros Chemicals are also high, NEERI reports, adding that children, elderly and the infirm are most vulnerable. The report dated August 2007 was unearthed by Community Environmental Monitoring through the Right to Information Act. Samples were taken for periods varying from 10 minutes to 24 hours from within industries, residential areas in SIPCOT villages, and from Alapakkam, more than 5 km away. Even Alapakkam recorded high exposure levels. NEERI attributes this to air transport of pollutants.
Levels of Benzene a chemical that causes blood cancer among children were up to 125 times higher than safe levels, while other carcinogens like chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride and trichloroethylene were upto 881, 553, 32.5 and 21.8 times higher than acceptable levels.
The NEERI study was commissioned in response to the 2004 report “Gas Trouble” released by the SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors (SACEM) highlighting the presence of at least 22 toxic gases in SIPCOT air. In September 2004, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes referred to Gas Trouble and directed the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board to bring down pollution levels or shut errant industries by December 2004. Till date, no concrete action has been taken by the Board, and no industries have been punished. Just in 2007, SACEM documented 9 serious air pollution incidents that injured more than 150 people.
“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,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, advisor to Community Environmental Monitoring. “The TNPCB is a toothless tiger with neither the vision, nor the political will to regulate pollution.”
Rather than address the existing pollution, the Government is setting up more polluting units, many without proper clearances. Chemplast Sanmar, which does not have complete CRZ clearance, has already commenced construction of a PVC plastic manufacturing unit. A water-intensive textile park, several power plants and an oil refinery are also planned in this region.
“Every extra day of delay condemns additional people, particularly children, to a life of agony and ill-health. If the Government is serious about tackling this problem, it should first announce that only non-polluting industries will be promoted in Cuddalore,” said M. Nizamudeen of Cuddalore District Consumer Protection Organisation.
NEERI reports that the results are a conservative estimate as most of the industries were not operating to capacity on the 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 folds,” NEERI says.
For more information, contact:
Nityanand Jayaraman (Advisor, CEM): 9444082401
M. Nizamudeen (CDCPO): 9443231978
SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors & Cuddalore District Consumer Protection Organisation
No. 72/7 Nethaji Road, Manjakuppam, Cuddalore 607 001
Community Environmental Monitoring (A project of The Other Media).
c/o 42A, 1st Floor, 5th Avenue, Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090
List of Chemicals Detected with Highest Levels Recorded
|Name of Chemical||Highest Level (microgram/m3)||Location||Times above safe levels|
|Carbon tetrachloride||72||Tagros Chemicals||553|
Other Hazardous Air Pollutants found in SIPCOT air: