CHENNAI: Activists are concerned over the high mercury levels in the ecologically sensitive Pambar Shola reserve forest due to the Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) thermometer factory at Kodaikanal. Sediment samples collected from two stream beds within the forest range has clocked mercury levels that are much higher than previous samples.
The samples analysed by the Department of Atomic Energy laboratory show high levels of contamination. One sample had nearly 11 times more mercury than standards fixed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and over 18 times that of Canadian safety levels.
The Anglo-Dutch multi national corporation HUL, has no record for the contaminated silt that is suspected to have seeped out of the five silt traps set up in the factory site since 2005, allege activists.
The company had set up the silt traps after obtaining Hazardous Waste Authorisation from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), after shutdown in 2001. But the authorisation expired in 2004 and was not renewed, show RTI documents obtained by activist Shweta Narayan.
The documents show 7,505 kgs of silt collected in the five traps between 2001 and 2004. Activists calculate as much as 25 tonnes of contaminated silt could have entered the forest since 2004.
The high levels of mercury in the sediment inside the stream show that the closed factory is still actively polluting the environment, asserted environment activist Nityanand Jayaraman.
Records show that the company does not have a valid hazardous waste authorisation, raising questions about the silt collected in the traps since 2004. If not removed, they would leak into the shola. If collected, it would mean the activity was done without license and away from the monitoring by TNPCB and Factories Inspectorate, Jayaraman alleged.
“The high levels of mercury found outside the factory are proof that the substandard clean-up is harming the Kodaikanal wildlife sanctuary. Unilever’s detailed project report does not even acknowledge local residents as stakeholders,” criticised Navroz Mody, member of the TNPCB’s Local Area Environment Committee and resident of St. Mary’s Road.
Rajagopal Durairaja, president, Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury (TAAM), an umbrella association of Kodaikanal’s civil society groups, said the factory site should be cleaned up totally befitting a forest area and the site should be notified as part of the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary. “We will be filing a case in Madras High Court in a week,” he said.
Albert Jayakumar of St. Mary’s Road Residents Welfare Association said local residents living close to factory site were facing many health concerns.”We want a hospital in Kodaikanal to treat the affected people,” he said.
The company was not available for comments.