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HUL admits to breach of protocol at TN factory

Nov. 16, 2010

Divya Trivedi
Hindu Business Line

HUL admits to breach of protocol at TN factory World Economic Forum.

New Delhi: At the release of its global 'Sustainable Living Plan' programme at the World Economic Forum, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) admitted that it had committed a grievous breach of protocol at its mercury thermometer factory in Kodaikanal.

But nine years after the incident took place and the factory was shut down, the soil remediation at the premises is yet to be complete.

The reason why it is taking so long, according to HUL, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch multinational corporation Unilever, is that there is disagreement between various bodies about what exactly has to be done.

"Currently there are some issues about the level of remediation, not because we don't want to do it but because there are different bodies that have to be agreed to what has to be done," said Mr Harish Manwani, Chairman, HUL, adding that he did not want to comment further as the matter was sub judice.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board reportedly gave its consent for remediation work as early as in June 2008.

The incident was unearthed in 2001 when contaminated glass scrap from the factory was being sold in the locality in breach of protocol.

The mercury glass thermometer factory was set up at Kodaikanal by erstwhile Ponds India Ltd in 1983 for markets in US, Europe and South America.

It came under the management of HUL through acquisition in September 1998 and continued to be in operation till March 2001, when non-governmental organisations discovered the presence of mercury tainted glass scrap at a scrap yard in Kodaikanal and the factory was shut down.

Around 5.3 tonnes of mercury tainted glass scrap (containing residual mercury of approximately 0.15 per cent) was sold in breach of the company's established procedures.

From March to May 2003, HUL exported around 290 tonnes of mercury bearing materials such as mercury-contained glass scrap, semi and finished thermometers, virgin mercury and ETP sludge to a mercury recycler in the US.

Sections of the media and NGOs such as Greenpeace have highlighted the extent of health and environmental hazards caused by remains of mercury scrap. But the company maintains that there has only been limited impact on the soil at some spots of the factory, which requires remediation. On the basis of a report prepared by M/s URS, HUL maintains that there is no adverse impact on the health of its workers or the surrounding environment. M/s URS is an international environmental consultant hired by HUL for site assessment and risk assessment.

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