THOOTHUKUDI: The Madras High Court that rejected Vedanta's plea to reopen Sterlite Copper, had said that the unaccounted discharge of mercury from the smelter unit was a serious cause of concern.
According to the High Court order dated August 18, 2020 passed by Justices TS Sivagnanam and V Bavani Subbaroyan, the Sterlite Copper should have generated a minimum of 25.91 tonnes of mercury between 2004 and 2018. The judges pointed out that Hindustan Unilever Plant in Kodaikanal was shut permanently in 2001 for discharging 7.95 kilogrammes of mercury. "This is a matter of serious concern which should have been examined by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB)," the court said.
The judgment found that the study conducted by the Department of Community Medicine of Tirunelveli Medical College in 2008 titled 'Health Status and Epidemiological Study around 5 km radius of the petitioner-industry' on 80,725 individuals revealed that prevalence of brain tumour among men was 1000 times the national average.
The study also found that 12.6% of deaths were due to nervous diseases; 13.9% respiratory diseases were more prevalent in the areas surrounding the factory; incidences of asthmatic bronchitis were 2.8% which is more than double the State average of 1.29%; eczematous skin lesions were high (1.38%) in the region; women in the area had more menstrual disorders; disorders of the joint and musculoskeletal system were significantly higher in the villages around the copper smelter.
Besides, the iron content in the groundwater at Kumareddiapuram and Therkuveerapandiapuram measured 17 and 20 times higher than the permissible levels prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for drinking water; and 2 out of 7 groundwater samples had higher levels of fluoride than the permissible levels, the order said.
Sources said that the copper manufacturer had admitted the discharge of mercury during smelting in its reports when the company moved phase two project applications for approval in 2007. "However, the company had not furnished the details regarding its recovery," they added.