THOOTHUKUDI: The removal on Friday of the copper slag dumped on the Uppar stream bank here has been slammed by environmental activists. They termed it an act of 'subterfuge' without appropriate authorisation from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and demanded that the district administration inspect the site.
The copper slag amounting to 3.5 lakh tonnes was generated by the now defunct Sterlite Copper and had been dumped on a private patta land on the banks of the Uppar stream in 2011.
On Wednesday, private authorities began removing the copper slag. At least 100 loads were removed from the site. The activists alleged that the destination of the industrial waste being removed is still unclear.
TNPCB officials told The New Indian Express that neither the land owner nor Sterlite Copper had obtained permission from them to remove the slag.
According to the memorandum of understanding and sale agreement dated September 25, 2010, the buyer had undertook to the petitioner (Sterlite) that he will not sell or dispose of the slag to any other third party without the petitioner’s prior permission in writing.
When asked, Sterlite authorities said that the current land owner had not yet intimated them about removing the copper slag.
Environmental activist Fatima, in a complaint to the district collector, pointed out that TNPCB in its Consent to Operate (CTO) (Water Act) issued on October 05, 2012 had stated “The unit shall dispose the slag for beneficial uses such as road formation, shot blasting, abrasive production, cement aggregate making and other relevant areas of application, with approval from concerned agencies.”
Environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman said that the workers involved in loading the waste into trucks are not equipped with safety gear even though it contains toxic and heavy metal laden substances, and proper handling with official advice is required.
The activists said that the ongoing removal of slag without intimating the TNPCB is highly suspicious and causing great concern. Besides, it will obfuscate the trail of responsibility even as Sterlite had challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court. Hence, the district collector should inspect the site and verify its destination in order to prevent further contamination, the complaint said.
The Madras High Court in its final judgment ruled that the copper manufacturer has a continuing liability and duty of care with respect to the copper slag and diversion of the slag waste for any other purpose cannot be done without the written consent of Vedanta.
The Madras High Court, relying on various research papers, observed that copper slag contains highly toxic elements like arsenic, barium, cadmium, copper, lead and zinc, which can be released into the environment causing pollution of soil, atmospheric air, surface water and groundwater.