15 March 2013, Chennai
Marking 12 years of inaction by Hindustan Unilever and the Government of Tamil Nadu in cleaning up Unilever’s toxic mercury contaminated site in Kodaikanal, more than 20 children from the hill town visited Chennai to deliver hearts with messages to key Government officials urging them to clean up contamination to international standards. On March 7, 2001, citizen groups and residents of Kodaikanal exposed how Unilever had dumped mercury wastes in the forests and in a scrapyard located in a densely populated part of town. The factory was shut down by the Government for its negligent handling of hazardous wastes.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is particularly toxic to pregnant mothers, foetuses and children, and can cause brain damage. Mercury also affects the kidney and heart. At least 30 children, born to former thermometer factory workers, are affected with various birth defects ranging from mental deficits to debilitating physical disabilities. Several of the children have died.
More children should not be affected. Not only should there be no delay, but there should also be no compromise on the quality of clean-up, the children said.
Rather than push the polluter to clean up to the highest international standards, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board is helping Unilever clean up to lower standards to cut costs. The levels being considered by TNPCB are at least 20 times lower than what Unilever would have required to do if they had caused the same contamination in the United Kingdom, where it is based. Declaring that children world over are the same, the students from Kodaikanal insisted that there should be no double standards on the matter of cleaning up the contaminated areas. They also called for transparency and public participation in the process of deciding the levels of clean-up and the clean-up itself.
According to Rajesh Mani, a resident of Kodaikanal and a member of Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury, “A Supreme Court-appointed committee consisting of Kodaikanal residents to oversee the remediation efforts has been sidelined to allow TNPCB to take secret decisions in favour of Unilever”.
In February, TAAM launched its “Have a Heart” campaign to raise awareness about Unilever’s mercury pollution among school children in Kodaikanal and Chennai. More than 2500 children have designed hearts with messages to be delivered to various Government officials and to Unilever urging them to use their hearts in deciding how to and how much to clean up.
For more information, contact: Archanaa Seker: 9840523235