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Braving the stench to learn their lessons

25 June 2008
Priya M Menon
Times of India

Cuddalore: The 41 students of the Panchayat Union Elementary School in Eachangadu suffer from persistent headaches, nausea, dizziness and memory loss. Eachangadu, according to the NEERI report, is the worst affected by pollution from the factories in the SIPCOT complex. The school has factories on two sides TANTECH Agrochemicals Ltd which manufactures pesticides and SPIC Pharmaceuticals that manufactures Penicillin G. Asian Paints also has a unit nearby.

The school stands just across the road from the SPIC unit that was shut down in August 2007 by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board as its mycelium (the residue from harvesting penicillin) sludge yard was emitting a foul odour. Ten days later, SPIC got a stay order.

The stench hits you even before you enter the village. Less than an hour after you enter the village, you are fighting nausea. Then your skin begins a slow burn. Environmentalists are worried as the air is redolent with the smell of hydrogen sulphide, which can severely damage the central nervous system, especially in young children.

K Anbarasan, DGM of SPIC Pharmaceuticals, however, insists SPIC is not responsible for the odour. "We have upgraded our technology; the mycelium is now evaporated and disposed. We use herbal extracts to ward off the smell," he says, adding that the mycelium emits an odour only when it rains.

But children and adults in the village are finding day-to-day life in the village tough. B Jyothi, a teacher in the school for the past seven years, says, "Last year, there was a sudden blast of foul air and a few children vomited and fainted in class." Jyothi has had frequent spells of dizziness for the past two years.

The headmaster of the school sought a transfer recently. "My promotion is due next month week and hopefully I can leave after that," says Jyothi. Will the children get a replacement teacher? "Only an unsuspecting outsider will agree to come to this place," she says.

What about relocating the children to another school? "We will discuss it with the community and take a decision as children will have to cross the national highway to reach the other school," says Cuddalore District Collector Rajendra Ratnoo.

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