Honourable Chief Minister,
Government of Tamilnadu,
Chennai – 600 009.
I am writing with concern over M/s Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s proposal for cleaning up its mercury contaminated factory site and surroundings, and over Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s failure to insist on a world-class clean up at this site. Through this letter, I am giving voice to the apprehensions of residents of Kodaikanal, and the plains dwellers from Dindigul, Palani, Theni and Madurai. I urge the Government of Tamil Nadu to direct the TNPCB to insist on a stringent clean up standard that forces HUL to ensure that mercury levels in the soil inside the factory are no greater than levels found in the Pambar Shola nearby.
The factory site is located on the slopes of the Pambar Shola watershed forest, and is part of the catchment of the Pambar River and the Vaigai River. River Vaigai is an important source of fish and water for drinking and irrigation for Dindigul, Theni and Madurai districts at the very least. Mercury has a way of building up in aquatic environments and reaching lethal levels in predatory fish.
I understand that the currently proposed cleanup is designed to leave the factory site safe for future residential users. The standard proposed and accepted by the Scientific Experts Committee is 20 mg of mercury per kg of soil. The only assessments done till date are those conducted by consultants paid for by the company. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has failed to carry out the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee’s direction to conduct an independent assessment of the contamination. Be that as it may, even going by the company’s own figures more than a third of the mercury will be left behind in the factory site even after remediation. This is a cover-up not a clean-up. The residual mercury will be available to leak out through air and water and poison distant waterbodies including the Pambar and Vaigai Rivers.
The factory was allowed to be set up near an ecologically sensitive area on the understanding that its operations will not harm the environment or contaminate it in any way. I do not understand why TNPCB is arguing for the polluter, and expecting local communities to live with mercury levels that would be 200 times the naturally occurring background levels?
This is unacceptable. My colleague, MLA G. Bheem Rao, had raised this issue in the Assembly during the last session. I have been informed that the best available technology is capable of restoring soils to near pristine quality, and that in countries like USA, polluters have been forced to restore contaminated sites to standards less than 1 mg of mercury per kg of soil.
The Government of Tamil Nadu should prevail upon TNPCB to ensure that it follows its mandate of protecting public health and the environment.
(K. Balabharahi MLA)