KOCHI: With the green activists pointing fingers at the company alleging release of radioactive effluents into the Periyar River, the Indian Rare Earths (IRE) has stopped processing rare earth elements for the past 11 days.
“There’s no substance in the allegation. However, considering the concern raised by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), we’ve stopped processing rare earth elements. We’ve given a convincing reply to the PCB’s notice. It’s a public-sector unit and we’ll never act irresponsibly. There’s no radio active element in our effluents and the only element is sodium chloride,” IRE Deputy General Manager (Q&CR) P Narayanan told Express.
However, The Committee against Periyar Pollution demanded the IRE should clarify what the company is processing if it is not producing Uranium and Thorium.
“If the IRE is not processing heavy metals, why the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has established a laboratory on the IRE premises? In 2008, the PCB had sent the samples collected from the effluents to a Chennai lab for examination and it had proved presence of radio active elements. The samples reported 756 becquerel (Bq) of Uranium per kg and 726 Bq of Thorium per kg, which was alarming. I had raised the matter with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Advisor to the PM T K A Nair and replied it wasn’t harmful,” environmental activist and research coordinator Purushan Eloor told Express.
“We don’t compromise on environment standards,” said IRE Deputy General Manage (HR) G Balasubramaniam.
Pollution Control Board (PCB) environmental engineer P B Sreelakshmi said it had served notice on the IRE after the camera installed on the river banks caught visuals of effluents from the company flowing into Periyar on February 26. “We’ve sent the samples for examination and will initiate action if they’ve presence of polluting elements,” she said.
National Green Tribunal (NGT) state-level monitoring committee chairman Justice A V Ramakrishna Pillai had visited Eloor on Sunday after green activists raised a hue and cry alleging the factories in Eloor were releasing huge quantities of effluents into Periyar.
The river had been changing colours over the past one week allegedly due to release of polluting effluents. On Tuesday too, mass fish death was reported at Eloor Regulator cum Bridge. There was no water flow in the river due to closure of regulator at Manjummal.
“The rapid growth of green algae has led to oxygen depletion in the river. On Monday night, the oxygen content was zero, which might have led to mass fish death,” said Sreelakshmi.
Allegations absurd, says IRE
“The IRE functions according to the stringent norms fixed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and we don’t compromise on environment standards. The AERB conducts inspection every six months, which is a three-day exercise. The raw material is brought from our facility in Odisha by road and the AERB ensures there’s no radio-active metal content before despatch,” said IRE Deputy General Manage (HR) G Balasubramaniam.
The IRE Aluva is an exclusively value-adding chemical plant and from 2016, the unit has been concentrating on rare-earth purification, he said.For defence requirement, the unit produces Dysprosium and Gadonium. The emergency response centre of the BARC for the whole of south India is located on the IRE Aluva premises.
25% Lanthanum — used as medicine, to improve alkali resistance of glass and as inter-metallic component for Metal Hydride battery used in electric automobiles.
50% Cerium — used to polish glass surfaces, in LEDs to turn blue light into white, UV absorbtion for solar panels, catalyst convertor to reduce carbon monoxide emission in automobile exhaust, petroleum cracking catalyst in refining.
Praseodymium and Neodymium — used to make high-value permanent magnets