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Kodai opposes mercury clean up standard proposed by Unilever

23rd August 2015

The Hindu

Disagreeing with the proposed clean up criteria Hindustan Unilever (HUL) wanted to adhere to for the remediation of its mercury-contaminated factory site in the hill station, the Chairman of the Kodaikanal Municipality has asked the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to set aside a Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the company till the controversy over the standards was solved.

The DPR submitted by the company to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on August 10 has pegged the mercury remediation standard at 20mg/kg of soil. The controversy was that the standard was 20 times more lax than those prevailing in the United Kingdom, where the company has its headquarters.

According to the DPR, accessed by The Hindu, the company said the remediation criteria set by the TNPCB on the recommendation of the Scientific Experts Committee (SEC) was 20 mg of mercury for every kilogram of soil (20mg/kg). "It is estimated that approximately 5,200 to 6,900 metric tonnes of soil will be remediated," the report said. The figure may vary based on actual remedial activities.

The report said a Site Based Risk Assessment Study (SBRAS) was constituted by the National Environmental Engineering Institute and an Australian firm in 2006 for the remediation of the contaminated soil in Kodaikanal. The "receptor of concern" was considered to be future child residents who have the potential to be exposed to mercury through various means like vegetable ingestion.

Under the assumed conditions of the factory site, the report stated that a Site Specific [Mercury] Target Level of 25mg/kg for child residents and 29mg/kg for child recreational users were derived. Later, based on reviews by the SEC, TNPCB and CPCB, the remediation criterion of 20mg/kg was set. The total remediation project is estimated to take 29 months, the report said.

It is to be noted that this was the second DPR the company has prepared, after the one submitted in 2008 ran into a controversy over standards.

Opposition

Almost immediately after the DPR was released by activists and ex-workers of the factory, the Kodaikanal Municipal Chairman, M. Sridhar, shot off a letter to the Chairman of the TNPCB, expressing his disappointment.

Mr. Sridhar said despite concerns raised on the issue by activists, the SEC had approved the remediation target of 20-25mg/kg. "This raises questions in my mind about the scientific integrity of the evaluation by these scientists," the letter said, adding that he had sought independent scientific advice in the matter.

The Chairman said he was keen that the current DPR be set aside until the controversy is resolved. Also, he alleged that the report was silent on reparation for the tonnes of mercury "dispersed" into Kodaikanal’s environment. "..the polluter must be penalised for making us bear the long-term effects," he stressed.

Meanwhile, an HUL spokesperson declined to comment on questions submitted by The Hindu , including those on the clean-up standard allegedly being lax and the contents of Municipal Chairman Sridhar’s letters.

Read letter sent by Mr. M Sridhar, Chairman of Kodaikanal Municipality to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board

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