Pollution threat to the island of Eloor
Public interest petition filed by Kerala state unit of PUCL before the monitoring committee on hazardous waste and hazardous chemicals set up by the Supreme Court of India.
PCB constitutes local monitoring committee, The Hindu 19 August
Dr. G. Thyagarajan
Eloor is an island situated on the banks of Periyar river with a population of 40,000. The largest Industrial Belt in Kerala is located at Eloor, with more than 247 chemical industries, manufacturing petrochemical products, pesticides, rare-earth elements, rubber processing chemicals, fertilizers, zinc/ chrome products, leather products etc. These industries discharge 17,35,00,000 liters highly polluted effluents per day into the river Periyar. This leads to the large-scale devastation of aquatic life in the river and agricultural lands. In addition to this there are many unidentified chemicals in the air, water and soil. The factories are located in such a way that they trap the entire island and the only bridge to the mainland is far away from the residential area. In the event of a chemical disaster like the one happened in Bhopal, the local residents have no way to escape.
In December 1999 Greenpeace
International, reported that due to the discharge of untreated effluents
there is substantial contamination of water and soil with DDT, HCH [BHC],
Endosulfan, heavy metals and a wide range of other hazardous Organochlorines.
Thereafter, in September 2003 Green peace International conducted a health
survey in the locality and found that there is an overwhelming increase
in most types of systemic diseases at Eloor. Clinically confirmed Cancer
incidence is greater in Eloor at a significant rate. In case of a Chemical
disaster, the lives of the residents of Eloor and the nearby places, including
Kochi City will be seriously affected.
3. Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi (Reg. No. E.R.841/2003) as well as other local residents approached the Secretary to Government, Department of Health and Family Welfare,Thiruvananthapuram and Kerala State Pollution Control Board to take effective action to control and reduce the pollution, for the last several years. There is a creek known as ‘Kuzhikkandam Thodu’, carrying highly contaminated water and draining into the River Periyar. On 10.4.1990, there was fire in this stream due to the burning of toluene, which was discharged from Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. Since no action was taken by the authorities in the matter of abating pollution and in taking effective safety measures, the local residents decided to close the stream. In order to prevent that, the Additional District Magistrate, Fort Kochi convened a meeting of all concerned, on 27.7.1990. In that meeting, the Pollution Control Board [KPCB] admitted that the polluted water which is flowing through Kuzhikkandam Thodu’ is not properly treated by the factories and that the main source of polluted water in Kuzhikkandam Thodu’ is Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. and M/s Fertilizers and Chemicals, Travencore Ltd.
The following decisions had been taken in the matter:
However till this date no steps had been taken by the concerned to implement any of the decisions. Not even a single health survey has been conducted in this area till this date.
4. Some environmental groups and scientists have conducted extensive studies relating to the impacts of pollution on the environment and human beings, at Eloor. In 1999 Greenpeace International, conducted an investigation into the nature of effluents being discharged by Hindustan Insecticides Ltd., which is manufacturing DDT and Endosulfan. The result of the investigation was published in December 1999, concluding that due to the discharge of untreated effluents there is substantial contamination of water and soil with DDT, HCH [BHC], Endosulfan, heavy metals and a wide range of other hazardous Organochlorines. One such study is by Greenpeace International in December 1999.
5. Aggrieved by the incessant pollution, Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi submitted several representations to the concerned authorities as well as the erring companies to take effective steps to redress the grievance of the public. Thereupon, the Pollution Control Board convened a meeting with Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi on 29.6.2000.
In the meeting the following decisions were taken:
Following this, a survey was conducted to find out the unauthorized outlets. Eventhough it was found that there are 60 outlets and 14 canals discharging the untreated effluents into River Periyar, out of which 35 outlets are unauthorized, nothing was done by the Board till this date for removing the same or to implement any of the decisions.
6. Thereafter, in September
2003 Green peace International conducted a health survey in the locality
and found that there is an overwhelming increase in most types of systemic
diseases at Eloor. The main organs that are affected are the neoplasm
blood and blood forming organs, endocrine, nutritional and metabolic system
mental and behavioral, nervous system, eyes and adnexa Ear and Mastoid
process, circulatory system Respiratory system, Digestive system Skin
and subcutaneous tissue, Musculo- skeletal system and connective tissue,
the Genito urinary system, Congenital malformations, deformations and
chromosomes etc. clinically confirmed Cancer incidence is greater in Eloor
at a significant rate.
9. In December 2003 the Greenpeace International published another report after conducting a follow-up study reconfirming the contamination of the entire atmosphere of Eloor with the highly toxic Organo chlorines and heavy metals. It was also reported that the metals found to be contaminating the creeks, exhibit a wide range of toxic effects on terrestrial and aquatic life including human beings. Many heavy metals, including Cadmium, Copper, mercury and Zinc are able to accumulate in animals and fish. In addition to any local impacts, the discharges from these factories can be expected to add to the global burden of persistent organic and inorganic pollution.
10. In another report published by Dr.M.L.Joseph, for Kerala Research Programme for Local Level Development, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, in January 2004, it is stated that gamma spectra Analysis of three species of edible fishes, showed significant level of radioactive contamination due to Thorium. The load of Mercury in Periyar River from various sources was estimated as 0.6.Kg per day as per the studies conducted by the Board and comparatively higher concentration of Copper and zinc in bottom sediments was recorded and it was considered as one of the reason for absence of bottom fauna in the polluted zone of Periyar river. Further it was reported that 16 species had been disappeared from Periyar within a span of 50 years
.The report concluded as follows:
11. In this regard it is submitted that in 1998 there was a massive fish killing in Periyar. This river is the source of drinking water for more than 40,00,000 of people .The wells and the agricultural lands in Eloor- Edayar area has been completely rendered useless due to chemical contamination. None of the factories have conducted any awareness programmes for the local residents regarding the safety measures to be taken in case of an accident. No Chemical Disaster Management Plan has been prepared by any of the industries till this date. The Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi submitted a representation before the Minister for Fisheries to take effective action to control and reduce the pollution. But no action was taken on the representation till this date.
12. It is also pertinent to note in this regard that none of the industries dealing with the hazardous chemicals have provided the necessary data to the public regarding the hazardous chemicals within the unit and the quantities of air and water effluents and hazardous waste generated. The industries are functioning without the notified sites for disposal of hazardous waste. M/s Indian Rare Earths Ltd. is keeping thousands of tones of radioactive wastes in their premises in totally unsafe conditions. If this is not removed and properly disposed, it will lead to serious contamination in the surrounding areas.
13. On 6.7.2004, at about 2.A.M., a massive fire gutted the Endosulfan plant of the Hindustan Insecticides Limited Factory at Eloor releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere. Fearing for their lives hundreds of people rushed to the Eloor Ferry to cross Periyar River. However they could not cross the river since there was no boat service and only a few could escape from there. There are no bus services also at that time of the night .The factory did not have any off-site emergency plan. The fire could be brought under control only after two and half hours. The fire Engines had to come from FACT, Kochi Refineries, Indian Navy and The Kerala state Fire and Rescue Services. There were no arrangements for evacuating people to prevent their exposure to the toxic chemicals, which have long-term adverse health impacts. As a result the people were exposed to the toxic fumes and are affected by various diseases.
14. In case of a Chemical disaster, the lives of the residents of Eloor and the nearby places, including Kochi City will be seriously affected and entrapped with practically no ways to escape. Most of the time, the doctors were not even able to diagnose the disease caused due to the exposure to various toxic chemicals due to the lack of ready information available from the concerned factory. The service of a toxicologist is not available to the people at Eloor. It is highly necessary to provide a disaster management plan and other facilities for immediate medical treatment.
We request the Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes and Hazardous
Chemicals set up by the Supreme Court to directly inspect the sites of
companies such as (1) M/s Fertilizers and Chemicals , Travancore Ltd,
Udyogamandal.P.O. (2) M/s Hindustan Insecticides Ltd, Udyogamandal.P.O.
(3) M/s Indian Rare Earths Ltd, Udyogamandal.P.O.and (4) M/s Binani Zinc,
Udyogamandal.P.O to0 assertain the above and for immediate action to rectify
the same as well as to initiate steps against the authorities for their