Reported by Nityanand Jayaraman for www.sipcotcuddalore.com
1 December, 2007 — A Paras tanker carrying liquid effluents from Alwaye, Kerala-based Cochin Minerals and Rutile Ltd (CMRL) was caught by villagers in Mettur, even as it was emptying its toxic cargo into a stream flowing from MALCO Ltd’s compound. The incident happened barely 10 metres from the Karumalaikoodal Police Station at 11.30 on 30 November, 2007. The transport manifest in the possession of the driver described the contents as ferric chloride destined for Bhadravati, Andhra Pradesh, from CMRL. Periyar Dravida Kazhagam’s Mr. Sakthivel (a resident of Thangamapuripatnam) discovered the illegal act and local residents immediately seized the vehicle and informed the Karumalaikoodal police station. Another tanker vehicle that accompanied this vehicle is untraceable. People who filed the FIR with the police report that the police checkposts have been alerted of its presence. The police has registered a complaint against Chitra Transporters of nearby Kunjandiyur, and the management of CMRL. A local farmers organisation said it will be sending official complaints to the Kerala Pollution Control Board as well.
“We had been getting reports about this activity for more than a month,” said Sakthivel. According to G. Madesh of the Gonur West Agriculturists Union, the effluents were whitish yellow in colour with a fine sandy ash-like suspension. “The smell was very sharp, and I felt my stomach churning, and had to use the toilet immediately,” he said. After some time, the stream bed turned yellow in colour with a one-inch thick foam. It was irritating to the touch.
CMRL is a repeat offender. In its report dated August 14, 2004, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on hazardous wastes had observed that “The unit has already faced closure earlier for discharging hazardous wastes through a concealed illegal pipeline into the Periyar river. The unit will not reopen until and unless its pollution of the Periyar river due to this industry is brought to a complete halt.”
Purushan Eloor of community group Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samiti (Periyar anti-pollution Committee) said “The company had recently announced that it had gone zero waste. But it appears that they are sending their effluents to Tamilnadu,” he said. It is also suspected that the consignment had been misleadingly labelled as ferric chloride, instead of ferrous chloride. The former is a by-product with a ready market as a coagulant for water purification as long as it is not contaminated with heavy metals. Sridhar of Thanal, a Trivandrum-based public interest organisation that has supported the community struggle against pollution by CMRL and other companies in Alwaye, said that the company’s ferric chloride had also been rejected in the past by Kollam-based Hindustan Newsprint owing to the high levels of heavy metal contaminants. He also says that the use of contaminated ferric chloride from CMRL may have been one explanation for the high heavy metal levels found in sludge from a nearby Pepsi factory.
Ferrous chloride is a toxic waste. CMRL, which manufactures 70 tons per day of synthetic rutile (an intermediate in the manufacture of Titanium dioxide) through the chloride route produces roughly 90 tons of each by-product per day. The by-products can be contaminated heavily with zinc, lead, mercury, manganese, hexalent chromium and nickel. These heavy metals are extremely toxic and can build up in the food chain to poison consumers of fish, and crops grown using contaminated waters. Mercury can cause damage to the brain and the nervous system. Cadmium can cause kidney failure, and hexavalent chromium is a confirmed carcinogen that can enter the body even through the skin.
“People feel safe to dump into the Kaveri. The Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board will do nothing to prevent pollution of Kaveri even if it is alerted,” said Madesh. MALCO has put up a sign at the point where the strem exits their factory that the water of the stream should not be used by humans or cattle because of its toxic nature. “Only in Mettur will such a sign over a stream that runs through public and private property not attract any attention of the district authorities or TNPCB,” he said.
A recent report titled “Unfolding Disaster” documented the discharge of effluents containing 28 toxic chemicals from Chemplast Sanmar’s PVC factory into the Kaveri. The report, published by Chennai-based Community Environmental Monitoring, called for the listing of Mettur as a critically polluted area by the Central Pollution Control Board.
According to Community Environmental Monitoring, CMRL and the contractor had violated the Hazardous Wastes Rules, 1989, the Water Act and the Motor Vehicles Act, all of which contemplate penal action on violators.
For more information, contact:
G. Madesh, Mettur: 9486113115
Purushan Eloor, Alwaye: 09846666955