Tag Archives: SIPCOT Cuddalore

Cuddalore: toxic present, troubled future

Nityanand Jayaraman, Cuddalore Online, November 9, 2006
Cuddalore, the place by the sea, is soon set to be assaulted. Some of the dirtiest industries – chemical factories, petrochemical refineries, a shipbuilding yard, textile dyeing units, and coal-fired power plants – are making a beeline for Cuddalore. The Tamilnadu Government has earmarked Cuddalore district for locating polluting industries. Their argument: Cuddalore is already polluted. So let’s concentrate all polluting industries in this district, thereby saving the rest of Tamilnadu from pollution.
Fact aside, that only one part of Cuddalore – the SIPCOT Industrial Estate in Pachaiyankuppam, Kudikadu and Semmankuppam panchayats – is polluted. The rest of Cuddalore is home to white-sand beaches, dense mangroves, lazy rivers, cashew groves and casuarinas.
I have heard about this decision to sacrifice Cuddalore repeated often. At least two chairpersons of the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board have admitted over the last 8 years that Cuddalore’s fate is sealed. . .that a decision to sacrifice Cuddalore has been taken at the highest levels.
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Indiscriminate dumping of toxic wastes has spoilt agricultural fields and groundwater.
The kind of industrialization that is planned for Cuddalore will mean the death of Cuddalore as we know it. Pollution-intensive industrialization has its beneficiaries in far-away places. The local people and the local economy will take a punishing beating.
On the one hand, people dependent on water and land for a livelihood – fishers and farmers – will lose their source of income. On the other, the ill-health caused by a poisoned environment will mean fewer work days, and higher medical expenses.
There are industries, and there are industries. Industries that destroy local resources, poison the air, water and land will eventually impoverish the local people rather than lend to their prosperity.
How do I know? Because we have experience of this kind of chemical-intensive industrialization in Cuddalore, and we know that it has made local people poorer.
All you have to do is check out the 8 km stretch south of Pachaiyankuppam on the Cuddalore-Chidambaram Highway. The SIPCOT industrial estate located here has been judged by many as ranking among the smelliest places in India. About 19 chemical industries, manufacturing pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dye chemicals, explosives, gelatin and sundry chemicals, spew out noxious air emissions and liquid effluents.
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Contaminated groundwater does not spare even the utensils it is stored in.
Just as Eskimos have a thousand words to describe the snow, SIPCOT residents have numerous descriptions for the various smells that assault their senses day-long. SPIC smells of shit; Tagros smells like a hospital; Shasun smells like rotten cabbage, rotten eggs; Pioneer Miyagi smells like a decomposing corpse; Asian Paints smells like sapota fruit. Then there are other smells – nail polish, rotten egg, fruity odours. In all, the SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors (SACEM) – a team of five villagers trained in environmental monitoring – have identified at least 36 odours emanating from the SIPCOT industries.
Surely, progress can’t be this smelly. These smells are not merely a nuisance; anybody that tells you that is lying. Odours are indicators of pollution, of chemicals in the air. Hydrogen sulphide, a deadly gas, has a characteristic rotten egg odour. The nail polish odour indicates the presence of acetone. Rotten cabbage is the smell of your cooking gas resulting from the chemical methyl mercaptan. The shit smell means the presence of a category of chemicals called Indoles.
Indeed, when samples of the ambient air in SIPCOT was sent to the United States for analysis by SACEM, at least 25 chemicals were discovered. Eight of them are known to cause cancer. These include – chloroform, methylene chloride, trichloroethylene, 1,2-dichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride, vinyl chloride, bromomethane and benzene.
1,2-dichloroethane was more than safe levels by a factor of 22,973; chloroform was above safe levels by a factor of 5119.
At least 13 of the chemicals found are used as raw material in one or more industries. In other words, toxic chemicals are constantly spilling out of the factories through chimneys and various other leaks and contaminating the air breathed by more than 20,000 people.
The effects are there for all to see. Children in the SIPCOT villages can be seen with rheumy eyes, running noses and rashes on the skin. The eye and nose disorders are indicative of upper respiratory tract problems – a likely sign of air pollution. Anecdotal evidence gathered during the visit of Justice J. Kanakaraj and team as part of the Indian People’s Tribunal revealed shocking information. Women in SIPCOT were reporting menstrual irregularities, delayed onset of puberty among girls, compromised physical development among boys, widespread dental and skin problems.
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These long-term effects pale in front of the acute effects people experience when the air pollution gets intense. “We can’t breathe; it feels like somebody is sitting on your chest. Whatever is in the air burns your eyes, tears through your nose and sets your lungs on fire. At least we can hold a cloth to our nose; imagine the fate of infants,” said one irate mother from Eachangadu, a village surrounded on three sides by smelly factories.
Several 100 acres of fertile farm land have been abandoned because ground water in the entire SIPCOT area is contaminated, and the lands are awash with effluents and toxic waste. The River Uppanar, once the lifeline for more than 8 villages of inland fisherfolk, is now a faint shadow of its original productive self. Ask any fisherman and he will rattle off the names of at least 30 kinds of fishes that used to be found in the River. Now, less than 8 commercial species are found.
In all this, the TNPCB and the State Government have played villains, colluding with the polluters and punishing residents when they complain about pollution. Many of the industries function outside the law. CUSECS — a company that was set up with Government participation to collect treated effluents and discharge it into the Bay of Bengal — is completely illegal. It has no permits whatsoever. Information about quality of effluents discharged from CUSECS was recently obtained by SACEM using Right to Information. That information revealed that CUSECS was not merely illegal, but was discharging highly toxic and untreated effluents into the sea. The long-term effect on fisheries and consumers of Cuddalore fish can be devastating.
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A fisherman displays a fish damaged by pollutants in the River Uppanar
The verdict on Cuddalore is straightforward. The State Human Rights Commission, the Indian People’s Tribunal headed by Justice J. Kanakaraj, and various other agencies both Governmental and non-Governmental have said that Cuddalore is overpolluted, and the people are ill. They have recommended that no further polluting industries be allowed in Cuddalore. But nobody is listening.
Despite intense opposition, the Government is pushing ahead with a proposal by Chemplast Sanmar to set up a factory to manufacture PVC plastic. PVC is one of the most toxic plastics. Its production, usage and disposal are all associated with the release of highly toxic chemicals, including dioxins and furans which are the most toxic chemicals known to science.
The scenic sand dunes of Naduthittu are earmarked for a ultra-mega coal-fired thermal plant which will throw out tones of sulphur dioxide into the air, and release a flyash slurry that will convert the bountiful ocean floor into a concrete cemetery.
Effluents from Tirupur textile units, and from the Ambur-Vaniyambadi leather tanneries are also rumoured to be making their way to the Cuddalore seas via long-distance pipelines. All in all, Cuddalore is set to become the smelly, sweaty armpit of industrial civilization.
Some may call this progress or development. But for the people who live in Cuddalore, this is hell. The ones that can afford to have already left Cuddalore. The unfortunate ones and the elderly have no option but to stay in what has now become a gas chamber.
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Young fishermen in the River Uppanar. Will the river still be alive when these boys grow up?
If you’re concerned and want to help:
Contact: nopvcever@gmail.com
Visit: www.sipcotcuddalore.com
Tel: +91 9444082401

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Air pollution: Tamil Nadu becoming second Bhopal

PAPRI SRI RAMAN
Chennai, June 7 (IANS) Environmental agencies in Tamil Nadu are demanding monitoring stations in heavily industrialised pockets after a study found air samples from the state among the most polluted in India.
The groups have urged the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to apply for central funds to set up volatile organic compounds (VOC) and sulphur gas monitoring stations in Manali, Mettur, Cuddalore, Tuticorin and other industrialised areas.
The demand came after two samples from Tamil Nadu, out of 21 air samples taken from various parts of India, were found to be among three most-polluted in a first-of-its-kind national study of toxic gases in ambient air.
The study, ‘Smoke Screen – Ambient Air Quality in India’, was released here by Magsaysay award winner V. Shantha of the Cancer Institute.
The samples were taken with the help of a ‘Bucket’ – a low-cost air sampling tool that contains a special plastic bag housed within a bucket. The bag serves as a container for the air sample, and is detached after the sample is taken and couriered to a laboratory in California.
‘The Bucket results confirm that many communities in Tamil Nadu are living in a slow-motion Bhopal. For years, the Pollution Control Board and the government have ignored complaints about nasty odours and health problems,’ said M. Nizamudeen, who works with Federation of Consumer Organisations of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry (FEDCOT), an NGO.
‘We hope that the new government will be more responsive to people’s problems and utilise the fact that they (DMK) control the environment ministry at the centre to speed up the standards setting process and strengthen enforcement,’ said Nizamudeen, referring to the DMK-led government that took office last month.
An air sample from the open garbage burning site in Perungudi, on the city’s outskirts and positioned along the much-hyped IT corridor, contained the highest number of chemicals found in any Indian sample.
As many as 27 chemicals, including carcinogenic ones, at levels 34,782 and 2,360 times higher than those considered safe for residential air by the US Environmental Protection Agency were found in this sample.
A second sample taken from near the effluent discharge point into the Cauvery river by Chemplast Sanmar’s PVC plant near the Mettur dam site, about 600 km southwest of here, also qualified among the three most-polluted samples as it contained six cancer-causing chemicals in the 17 that were detected.
From the 21 samples taken from various locations in India, the study reported the presence of 45 chemicals, including 13 carcinogens. The report is unique for India as the study analysed air samples for 67 toxic VOCs and 20 sulphur compounds in the air.
Activists said none of the chemicals found in ambient air samples in Indis were systematically monitored and no standards exist for them despite evidence that many of the reported chemicals exert severe health effects.
In September 2004, the Supreme Court instructed the Central Pollution Control Board to set standards for toxic gases. In 1999-2000, the ministry of environment and forests set aside $7.5 million for monitoring and setting standards for toxic gases. However, neither task has been done so far.

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Tamilnadu supports the Bhopali padyatris

On 5 March 2006, ex-workers from Hindustan Lever’s now-closed mercury thermometer factory held a demonstration in solidarity with the Bhopalis on the 5th anniversary of their struggle against the multinational. They are demanding long-term health care and research, and livelihood rehabilitation. All workers were exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in the workplace.
On 9 March, children (12 years and under) began their daily staging of a street play on pollution at the Besant Nagar beach.
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Young artists and supporters of Bhopal (our street play team – children from Orur Kuppam in Besant Nagar)
The five minute play talks about the sorry condition of the beach and the sea, and links it to the Bhopal padayatra and the incident through a commentary. At the end of the play, we request people to sign a banner.
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Our complete team inckuding adults (special – our banner with the march logo where people are signing, this banner will be sent to the Indian PM)
10 March: Today, 8 youth from We Feel Responsible will meet the Governor of Tamilnadu and deliver a piece of their minds and a banner with signatures addressed to the PM.
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A kid signing the banner in support the march
On 16 March, supporters of the Bhopal struggle will take out a rally in Chennai with actors in costumes enacting dance-dramas.
Chennai youth meet the Governor of Tamil Nadu demanding justice for Bhopal
Seven members of the Chennai based youth collective We Feel Responsible met the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Mr. Surjit Singh Barnala today. In a brief conversation which lasted about 15 minutes he was briefed about the Bhopal walk, the present situation in Bhopal and the purpose of our meeting with him.
We told him about the significance of the march and our stand on the issue as youth. He seemed pretty unperturbed and when we were briefing him about the demands he started with a story about him at the time of the disaster. He was at a jail “under arrest” (he did not tell us for what but I did some online search and am assuming that it was due to the Sikh Riots that ensued the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October1984) about 60kms from ground zero and he said he smelt something strange in the air and told the jailor about it but none of them realized until later that it was the gas from Union Carbide.
On the issue of compensation and health he said that UCC had already paid a heavy sum as compensation immediately and also built the best hospital in Madhya Pradesh. He appreciated our effort that went into the signature campaign for the petition to the Prime Minister and suggested that we present the banner with signatures to the PM directly as he was sure that it would not reach him if sent through him. He refused to sign on the petition.
We presented him some literature on Bhopal and a copy of ‘Closer to Reality’ a Bhopal film by the Delhi based youth group, We for Bhopal. He wished us all the best in our endeavor and promised to forward the petition to the Prime Minister.
A seven-member delegation including Anthony, Harini, Saravanan, Someetharan, Senthil, Seena and Dharmesh presented the petition.

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Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board orders Tagros Chemicals shut, cuts electricity connection

By Nityanand Jayaraman
CUDDALORE, 6 MARCH, 2006
The Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board at 4.30 p.m. issued closure orders and disconnected the electricity to Tagros Chemicals, a manufacturer of synthetic pyrethroids, a class of highly toxic pesticides. The company, which is located in Pachaiyankuppam village, had expanded capacity illegally, and was manufacturing and exporting products that it was not authorised to produce. On November 27, 2005, the company was found dumping toxic effluents on a farmer’s land in Poondiyankuppam, a nearby village within the Semmankuppam Panchayat.
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The president of the Panchayat had in December 2005 invoked a seldom used clause under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, and written to the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Environment & Forests —
“Since the Ministry of Environment & Forests and the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board seem incapable or unwilling to take any action to implement the law, I intend to prosecute Tagros Chemicals and its contractor Mr. Senthil Velan under Section 15 of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, and under Sections 6 and 16 of the Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989. I request the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board to provide us with all the reports relating to Tagros in its possession to us. Please let us know who the occupier of the facility is, as he/she is liable under Section 16 of the Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989.”
Indian law allows citizens to write to the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board requesting it to prosecute the offender within 60 days, failing which the citizen can step in the shoes of the regulator and conduct the prosecution.
Tagros Chemicals claims to be “India’s leading manufacturer exporters of various Synthetic Pyrethroids like Cypermethrin, Permethrin, Alpha cypermethrin, Deltamethrin and various other products like Imidachloprid, Hexaconazole, Propiconazole.” This was brought to the notice of the TNPCB in August 2004, less than a month before the company was to have a statutory public hearing to seek permission for expanding capacity and introducing new products.
According to SACEM, as early as in 2004, reports from workers and residents of SIPCOT indicated that not only had Tagros completed construction for the expanded capacity, but also engaged in production, including of new products. The matter was brought to the notice of the TNPCB and the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes in September 2004, and subsequently at the public hearing on September 7, 2004. No action was taken by the TNPCB, and the company continued to manufacture and export the unauthorised products in the illegally expanded factory. In February 2005, the SCMC recommended its closure to TNPCB. The company continued to operate illegally until it was shut-down today, a year later.
In the 17 month period that it operated illegally, and despite the knowledge of the Inspector of Factories, the District Collector of Cuddalore, and the TNPCB, 6 people were injured and one killed in four serious accidents in Tagros, according to SACEM records. During the same period, the company illegally dumped toxic wastes on open land on two separate occasions.
“Gas Trouble” – a September 2004 SACEM study on SIPCOT’s air quality – reports finding 14 chemicals in one air sample taken downwind of Tagros. Cancer-causing chemicals like Carbon Tetrachloride and ethylene dichloride were found at levels 11,538 and 22,973 times higher than levels considered safe by US EPA’s Region 6 screening levels.
Interestingly, the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests seems unconcerned about the illegal expansion, or the SCMC’s recommendations for closure. A senior bureaucrat from MoEF also serves as member secretary of the SCMC. Ignoring SCMC’s recommendations, Tagros had directly submitted its application for environmental clearance to the Union Ministry, by-passing the TNPCB. Rather than take action, the MoEF is actively considering the file. Conditionally cleared by the technical committee, the MoEF currently has the “file under process.”
Tagros is not the only offender in SIPCOT, Cuddalore. The SCMC had also recommended closure orders for TANFAC, and similar complaints of toxic waste dumping and effluent spills are pending for months against Pondicherry Alum, SPIC, Loyal Super Fabrics and CUSECS.
The TNPCB remains highly inconsistent and arbitrary in the manner in which it applies the law. Tuticorin-based Sterlite Industries is operating an entire illegally constructed factory complex consisting of a 300,000 tonnes/year copper smelter, a 1,25,000 tonnes/year refiner, a power plant, an oxygen plant, and a Continuous Cast Rod unit.
But Sterlite is too well-connected to suffer Tagros’ fate. Despite repeated emphasis by the SCMC that Sterlite has both illegally expanded and endangered the environment, the TNPCB and MoEF have regularised the violation.
Sterlite’s Tuticorin smelter complex has a disturbing track record of safety. Between 1996 and 2004, at least 139 people have reportedly been injured and 13 have lost their lives in 15 incidents.
Related stories
1. Tagros Chemicals caught red handed dumping hazardous waste in SIPCOT area
http://www.sipcotcuddalore.com/updates_061205.html
2. Two more industrial accidents reported from Tagros Chemicals in SIPCOT
http://www.sipcotcuddalore.com/updates_311005.html

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Fishy Tales: how industry is destroying a river, a way of a life and a community's health in Cuddalore

FISH EXPORTS FROM CUDDALORE DECLINE DRAMATICALLY AS CHEMICAL INFLUX FROM INDUSTRIES INTO THE ENVIRONMENT INCREASE.
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By VK Shashikumar
Murthy, a fisherman from Sonanchawdi village in Cuddalore despairs over the chemical influx in the Uppanar River. “Our fishing activities have been grievously affected and the children in our community show signs of chemical poisoning. They complain of breathing disorders and nausea. The children are not growing properly and there are many who have stunted growth. It seems there is something wrong with their bones. A 14-year-old girl looks like she is 7 or 8. Many of our community members also complain of infertility.”
But the most damaging impact has been on the fishing trade. “Even Germany is not buying our prawns any more because of the chemical contamination. The prawns that we catch can find no market and are thrown away. There’s no bottom life in the riverbed any more, no algae, nothing for the fish to feed on. Earlier when we caught the fish they would be alive for 5 minutes, now they don’t even survive for 30 seconds,” says Murthy.
The fishermen say that during the rainy season the water level rises and washes away the contamination in the water and the silt in the river doesn’t have many contaminants enabling survival of bottom life on the riverbed. At this time the prawn catch is good. Pollution has made fishing dependent on the rainy season.
Sukumar, a fisherman from Thaikalthunithorai village says that people
have generally stopped eating fish in this region because there seems to be direct relation between consumption of toxic contaminants in the fish and health problems like headaches and blisters on the body. “We have a dug a 300 feet bore well to draw out drinking water. But this water can’t be stored beyond a day because it begins to smell and we have also noticed that an oily film on the surface of stored water.
Vasanta from Eechankaadu village bemoaned the cancer of pollution that
has destroyed the Uppanar River. “The chemical in the water corrodes
kitchen utensils,” she said. “The Uppanar was beautiful earlier. The
children would go there, so would the cattle. Now it’s filled with
sludge. If you step in it you will instantly develop skin rashes.”
Read this account of Bhopal survivors’ leader and Goldman Prize winner Champadevi Shukla’s visit to Cuddalore in 2002
Twenty years ago when SIPCOT industrial estate was set up in Cuddalore it was done without taking environmental degradation into account. Like most project planning in India, planners of industrial estates ignored the heavy price that communities and the eventually the country pays when the sustainability of the ecology is not factored as the key element of any industrial development plan. “First they started building big companies. For the first few years we couldn’t tell the difference but soon we realised that our lives would be changed forever by the pollution emanating from the industries,” said Vasanta.
According to Nityanand Jayaram, a writer and environment activist who
took an active part in training the villagers to monitor analyse and
document environment pollution, “chemical odours are an indicator of
gross pollution and that the release of toxic gases from industries
represents a case of hazardous waste dumping into the atmosphere.”
Currently, no regulatory agency requires or monitors the air for toxic
gases such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sulphur compounds.
Fed up with the degrading quality of their lives the villagers in
Cuddalore helped by Jayaram and other activists resolved to make their
habitats safe for future generations. The villagers in Cuddalore now go on regular pollution patrol exercises. They collect air samples and
analyse them for pollutants. This grassroots movement has even attracted the attention of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee.
SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors are the first to have
conducted a study on toxic gases in ambient air in India. The findings of the report confirm that residents in SIPCOT have been exposed to toxic gases for at least 20 years. The report’s findings corroborate the persistent complaints by residents about pollution-related health effects and bear particular relevance to the health of women, children and the elderly who spend all their time within the polluted confines of the SIPCOT villages.
In fact, the SCMC has referred to the ‘Gas Trouble’ generated by the
villagers of Cuddalore. The Committee also said that such studies ought to be carried out by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). “The Board ought to seriously respect the ‘data’ provided in the complaints by human beings and the living sensors of human ears, throats and skin to industrial pollution,” stated SCMC.
The TNPCB has yet to come out with authentic information regarding the
nature and levels of toxic gases in the ambient air in the residential
areas in and around SIPCOT. The ‘Gas Trouble’ report has indicated
presence of 22 toxic chemicals that are harmful to eyes, respiratory
system, central nervous system, skin, liver, heart, kidney etc. Some of these chemicals are even known to cause cancer. Air quality measurements conducted by village monitors at different locations have reportedly shown concentration of toxic gaseous compounds far in excess of standards permissible under the United States Environment Protection Agency (USEPA). For many of these compounds there is no Indian standard as yet.
The SCMC has set an ultimatum to the TNPCB that “If the air pollution
around Cuddalore is not reversed within three months, from the date of
this Report, that is, by December 31, 2004, the entire Cuddalore
industrial estate shall go for closure and units will be allowed to
reopen only if they meet the currently available standards (applicable in this case) laid down under the USEPA for volatile organic compounds or CPCB (central pollution control board) standards if made available during this period.” However, the three-month deadline has gone by and in Cuddalore its business as usual.
This article is published under the fellowship programme of the National Foundation for India

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