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Tamil Nadu's Cuddalore industrial belt facing safety hazards

June 15, 2010

Madhu Bharathi,
NDTV Profit

(Chennai) Even though the industrial disaster in Bhopal happened 26 years ago, little seems to have changed in the country when it comes to better practices in industrial safety. One such example is Tamil Nadu's Cuddalore industrial belt where violations continue to be the norm and the victims are the locals.

As you enter the villages of Cuddalore the first things that hits you is the smell, which is a grim reminder of the appalling safety standards of this industrial belt home to over 30 factories all chemical, pharmaceutical or paint manufacturers.

At one time there were about 60 factories, but half of them including JK Pharma, Tantech, and Pentafour are now closed because they violated environmental norms.

Talking about the living conditions, one villager said: "The odour gets heavy in the nights as our village is covered three sides by industries. We can't leave this place because this is our ancestral village."

The biggest menace here is air pollution, to which even local officials admit they have failed to tackle.

"It's true that air pollution is a problem here but we are addressing it," said Seetharaman, district collector at Cudallore.

But even the water table here is contaminated, so badly that that the authorities had to bring in water from other taluks through pipelines. And not all villages are covered by this.

While discharge from these industries is not directly mixed in the nearby Ponnaiyar river, there are fears that effluent seeping into the ground has contaminated the water.

Some of the chemicals used in these plants include various aldehydes, methanol, barium and lead the source of health hazards.

More than 20 villages in this industrial belt used to be fertile and agriculture and aquaculture used to flourish at one time, bust the industrial presence has changed the space altogether.

A report by National Environment Engineering Research Institute says the cancer proneness in the area is 2000 times higher than the national average. What's worse the people here say is that the suggestions in these reports have not been followed by the authorities.

And while the national focus may be on Bhopal, industrial clusters like Cudallore are warnings of mini-Bhopals, less visible to public view, but no less dangerous.

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