File picture of Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary
File picture of Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

Study finds pollutants from Sun Pharma factory in wetlands within Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

The findings contradict claims by the Tamil NaduPollution Control Board (TNPCB) and Sun Pharma that the factory is a zero liquid discharge facility

CHENNAI: Both ground and surface water downstream of the Sun Pharmaceuticals factory inside the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary are polluted with industrial solvents, which can cause adverse health diseases for both humans and birds, according to a study.

Four common industrial solvents, which are used in pharmaceuticals manufacturing, were detected in ground and surface water samples. The study was conducted by Chennai Climate Action Group and Community Environmental Monitoring. 

While dibromochloromethane and dichloromethane were found in all three water samples, including one from an irrigation well, tetrachloroethene and toluene were found in a water sample taken from a pond downstream of the factory and a stream carrying rainwater run-off from the plant.

This confirms the allegations made by local villagers that the drug factory is polluting the water resources inside India’s oldest bird sanctuary. The findings also contradict claims by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and Sun Pharma that the factory is a zero liquid discharge facility. Dichloromethane is declared as a solvent used by Sun Pharma to manufacture tizanidine, said Prashant J, member of Chennai Climate Action Group, addressing a press conference.

“The fact that Sun Pharma is allowed to operate illegally inside a wildlife sanctuary and discharge toxic chemicals into the sanctuary’s wetlands reveals that the Forest Department and the TNPCB are not doing their job,” said Dr. Vishvaja Sambath of Community Environmental Monitoring.

TNPCB Chairman AV Venkatachalam told The New Indian Express that the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has already formed an expert committee to undertake a pollution study in Vedanthangal.

For years, farmers in the villages surrounding Sun Pharma have been complaining of reduction in agricultural production and have lodged formal complaints with authorities concerned, but in vain. Ramesh, a farmer in Malaipalayam village who joined the press conference, said his 20 acres of agricultural land are lying idle as all his irrigation wells have become defunct due to pollution from Sun Pharma.

Pollution from Sun Pharma flows via ground and surface water through a small pond called Sitheri to the Pudupet Thangal and Hanumanthakuppam Eri before reaching the Madurantakam eri. Farming in more than 1000 acres of well- and canal-irrigated cropland in Malaipalayam village has been abandoned because of water pollution.

“The wetlands surrounding the Vedanthangal tank are key to the health of the bird sanctuary. Polluting these wetlands is like poisoning the food source of the tens of thousands of birds that come here every year,” said M Yuvan of the Madras Naturalists Society.

Calling for legal action against forest department and TNPCB officials for dereliction of duty, the Chennai Climate Action Group has written to the National Board of Wildlife urging it to reject Tamil Nadu’s proposal to denotify major portions of the sanctuary.

The New Indian Express has written to Sun Pharma seeking its response to the study. The copy will be updated once the company replies.

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