Oil spill opens can of worms for Travancore Titanium

Pollution control board asks firm to shut operations and seal discharge point until damage caused by spill is dealt with

Published: 12th February 2021 04:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th February 2021 04:36 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Fingers are being pointed at state-run Travancore Titanium Products Ltd (TTP) for the poor upkeep of the glass furnace pipe which burst, causing the oil spill near the shoreline at Veli here on Wednesday. The Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) on Thursday directed the firm to close down operations and seal the discharge point until the company deals with the damage caused by the spill and the KSPCB completes its inquiry. The industries department too has formed a three-member committee to study the environmental impact of the spill and prevent similar incidents in future. 

The 75-year-old company will have to take statutory permissions from the KSPCB, the industries department and the factories and boilers department to restart operations. “We will check whether the company carried out proper maintenance. Further action will be taken after the inspection,” said KSPCB chairperson Pradeep Kumar A B. 

“We go by the ‘polluter pays’ principle. So we will assess the damage and issue a notice to the company,” he said. “The company officials did not informed KSPCB about the oil spill. It was only after a local resident alerted the board that a damage assessment team from KSPCB was rushed to the spot,” he said.
TTP MD Georgee Ninan said this was the first such incident in the company’s history. “TTP has removed the oil from the coast except from the discharge point,” he said.

Meanwhile, the residents here opposed to the removal of the oil near the end of the effluent pipe towards the sea, as they thought it would deny them compensation. An internal inquiry by TTP found fault with the employees in charge of the facility. The furnace oil, consisting mainly of residues from crude-oil distillation, is used for heating purpose.

Since the oil is corrosive, the pipe it flows through requires regular maintenance. As per latest assessment, around 5,000 litres of furnace oil has spilled on 4.5 km of the shoreline from Veliya Veli to Vettucaud, affecting the marine ecosystem and livelihood of fishermen in the area. The coastal sand was also contaminated. The company has so far removed 15 tonnes of contaminated sand and shifted it to its premises. After it is neutralised, the sand is likely to be shifted to the common disposal centre at Kerala Enviro Infrastructure Ltd in Ernakulam. TTP is one of the oldest and leading manufacturers and distributors of titanium dioxide (Anatase grade) pigment.

KSPCB probe 
KSPCB will check the oil pump meter in TTP to verify the management’s claim that only 5,000 litres of oil was spilled. “The oil did not spread much into the sea due to the absence of high tide. Had it spread further, the Coast Guard would have had to bring sophisticated equipment to manage it,” said Pradeep Kumar A B. He said the KSPCB legal team was exploring whether the fishermen can be compensated for the loss of livelihood.

Internal committee 
The Industries Department has formed an internal committee comprising principal secretary A P M Muhammed Hanish, Malabar Cements MD M Muhammed Ali and KMML MD S Chandrabose 
to probe the incident. The committee has to submit a report in 10 days and also has to suggest ways to prevent such incidents in future. The fisheries department has also launched studies on the impact of the oil spill on marine biology and livelihood issues in the area.

Coast Guard ship C-441 and Dornier aircraft conducted surveillance at the Veli coastal area on Thursday to ensure that there was no oil spill in the sea.

The Coast Guard is monitoring the situation and is equipped with all logistics in case the oil spill spreads to the sea due to tide, said a statement.


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