CHENNAI: B V Ramanna, who took over as the environment minister following the latest reshuffle, has assured to look into the issue of mercury leak from the erstwhile factory of Hindustan Unilever in Kodaikanal. The decade old issue had come under widespread criticism from residents and activists after RTI responses exposed that mercury cleanup standards were relaxed based on recommendations by the company’s consultant, displaying a clear conflict of interest. Responding to a question from Express, the minister said, “We have discussed the issue of Kodai mercury leak cleanup at the review meeting today. We will take proper action towards better remedial measures.”
TNPCB came under widespread criticism from locals, former workers and activists after RTI responses given by the board between 2009 and 2010 revealed that cleanup standard for mercury in the soil was reduced from proposed Dutch residential standard of 10mg/kg to a maximum of 25mg/kg in July 2008, resulting in over 100 kg mercury to be left behind in the soil even after the cleanup.
Activists and residents associations welcomed the minister’s assurance and expressed satisfaction over TNPCB’s response, especially after the appointment of the new member secretary K Karthikeyan and principal secretary C V Shankar. “This is the first time since 2005 that the TNPCB has started considering the public fears over the issue,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, an activist who has been involved with the case since its inception.
Over the last couple of months, representatives of mercury leak victims have renewed their demands for the reactivation of the Local Area Environmental Committee and the Working Committee, both of which had representation of public and officials from various government departments. Independent assessment of the pollution, both inside and outside the factory premises and derivation of new cleanup standards based on these assessments under public scrutiny are the other demands, which Karthikeyan has agreed to approve after consultations with higher authorities.