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Cuddalore industrial area 'unfit to breathe in'

Jaya Menon in Chennai
The Statesman

May 9. ó Activists in Cuddalore, about 200 km from Chennai, have demanded severe action against the chemical industries housed in the SIPCOT industrial area here for spewing toxic pollutants in the air making it "unfit to breathe in".

The SIPCOT Area Community Environment Monitors (SACEM), an organisation with members drawn from 20 odd villages surrounding the industrial area and environmentalists, pointed out that tests conducted during the past five months revealed the presence of 12 toxic gases, of which at least seven seriously violated one or more of the US standards set for of "safe ambient air".

With less than two months to go for the 30 June 2005 deadline set by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on hazardous wastes, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has taken no step to curb air pollution. No air monitoring studies or mitigating measures have been published or announced by it,

said Mr M Nizamudeen, general secretary, Federation of Consumer Organisations, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, here while releasing the results of the second set of tests conducted by the SACEM.

The organisation claimed that its second study found the presence of toxic chemicals between two and 900 times above safety levels prescribed by various US standards. These chemicals were detrimental to the eyes, skin, liver, kidneys, the respiratory, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, blood, and reproductive and gastrointestinal systems, the study said. "In fact, three of the 12 chemicals are known to cause caner in animals and are known to be potential carcinogens. Many of the toxic gases found in SIPCOT air are also known to retard the mental and physical growth of children and may result in birth defects and reproductive disorders," pointed out Mr S Pugazhendi, a member of the local area environment monitoring committee, which assists the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee. The activists also alleged that there have been at least five gas leaks from the factories in the SIPCOT industrial area since October last year alone, claiming that the authorities had summarily dismissed their complaints. Based on the SACEMís first report released in September 2004, which found 22 "volatile organic compounds and sulphur gases" in five samples of ambient air from the SIPCOT industrial area, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on hazardous wastes warned that if air pollution in Cuddalore was not reversed by end- June 2005, all industries within the industrial estate would have to pull down their shutters until they equipped themselves with proper infrastructure to run non-polluting factories.

"The TNPCB is not committed to taking on the issue of pollution," said Mr Nityanand Jayaraman, environmentalist and adviser to SACEM.

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