PRESS RELEASE – Study Finds Record High Levels Mercury in Kodai Forest Sediments

Issued by Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury, St. Mary’s Road Residents Welfare Association & Community Environmental Monitoring

15 June, 2016 — Exposing as false Hindustan Unilever’s claim that its mercury contaminated factory site is not an ongoing threat to the Pambar Shola ecology, results of analyses from a Department of Atomic Energy laboratory have revealed record high levels of mercury from two stream beds within the Pambar Shola Reserved Forest. Both streams emanate from Unilever’s site. Environmentalists have written to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board demanding prosecution of HUL officials for violating environmental laws and allowing ongoing pollution of the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary.

All three samples taken in April 2016 contained mercury at levels higher than US EPA and Canadian health-based standards for sediment. The USEPA specifies a range of 0.23 to 0.83 mg/kg, while Canada stipulates a range of 0.17 to 0.49 mg/kg. The three samples contained 0.96, 4.67 and 8.96 mg/kg respectively. Uncontaminated sediments typically contain less than 0.1 mg/kg of mercury. The most contaminated sediment contained nearly 11 times more mercury than the higher end of the USEPA standard, and more than 18 times the Canadian safety levels. At 0.96 mg/kg, the least contaminated sample too exceeded the higher end of the safe ranges prescribed in the US and Canadian jurisdictions. The high levels found in the forest stream’s sediments place wildlife and the ecosystem at risk of contamination through bioaccumulation and biomagnification.

The three samples were taken by members of Community Environmental Monitoring at the behest of residents living near the contaminated factory site and the Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury (TAAM). About 60 fenceline residents have since come together as St. Mary’s Road Residents Welfare Association to insist on public participation and a thorough clean-up.

In a March 2016 letter to international NGOs, Unilever CEO Paul Polman wrote: “The ceasing of operations in March 2001, the removal of all mercury-bearing material in 2003, and subsequently the decontamination and safe disposal of plant, machinery and materials used in thermometer manufacturing in 2006, have removed any risk of contamination to the ecologically sensitive region.”

“The high levels of mercury found outside the factory are proof that Unilever’s negligence and insistence on a substandard clean-up is actively harming the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary,” said Navroz Mody, a long-time resident of St. Mary’s Road. “Unilever’s Detailed Project Report does not even acknowledge local residents as a stakeholder. Naturally, as neighbours of the polluted site, we are worried that the contaminated site and site remediation will affect us.” Mody is also member of the TNPCB’s Local Area Environment Committee.

Local residents who have come together as St. Mary’s Road Residents Welfare Association have approached the Kodaikanal Municipal Corporation insisting that a stringent clean-up be conducted with the full participation and oversight of local communities. They have also demanded pre- and post-remediation monitoring of public health. Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury (TAAM), an umbrella association of Kodaikanal’s civil society groups, has also renewed its call for a total clean-up. “Not only should the factory site be cleaned up totally befitting a forest area, the site should be notified as part of the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary,” said TAAM president Rajagopal Durairaja.

REFER: U.S. EPA health-based standard — 0.23-0.83 mg/kg
http://www.epa.gov/  – assume sediment contains 1% total organic carbon

Canadian health-based standard: 0.17-0.49 mg/kg
http://www.elaw.org/assets/ – assume sediment contains 1% total organic carbon

For more information, contact:

Nityanand Jayaraman, Advisor, Community Environmental Monitoring: 9444082401

Albert Jayakumar, St. Mary’s Road Residents Welfare Association: 9487662013 jey.kkl@gmail

Raj Mohan, Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury: 9865885753 keysrajmohankodai