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NEW DELHI, India, 22 March 2001 -- Hindustan Lever, which had earlier denied charges leveled by citizen groups inKodaikanal against its thermometer factory of illegal mercury waste dumping, has admitted that themercury-containing glass wastes, now ascertained to be 5.3 tonnes, lying at the Munjikal scrapyard inKodaikanal originated from their factory. In a letter to Greenpeace India, the company has also agreedto track and retrieve other such shipments which have been sent to various locations outside thefactory, and to having cleared the wastes that were found to be dumped in the watershed forestsbehind the factory wall.
The Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury, while welcoming these admissions is irked that HindustanLever has not yet apologized to the community, and is downplaying the extent of their badpractices evident from the fact that several shipments of potentially-mercury contaminated wastessent over the last 17 years of operation may now be untraceable and spread out over variousparts of Tamilnadu and beyond.
"HLL's admission of their dumping is a good first step, but discussions with the company cannot beginin earnest, until the company offers a public apology to the community," said Navroz Mody, TAAM memberand Greenpeace Indiaís campaign director. "HLL should realize that this matter goes beyondmere financial compensation and remediation which can never fully make up for the damage tothe quality of life and environment. More importantly, they should realize that if such dumps were foundin London or Amsterdam, where Unilever is based, the company would be in deep trouble."
Hindustan Lever has said it has employed an international consultant, Dames & Moore to provide themwith advice on assessing and remediating the environmental consequences of their wastedumping. The Indian representatives of this company have submitted a protocol to clear the 5.23 tonnes ofmercury contaminated wastes lying in Munjikal.
At a press conference held in Chennai today, TAAM stated:
· Our concern extends beyond the Munjikal dump. The fact that this company, which vehemently deniedall charges of wrongdoing, now admits that such wastes may be lying in various locations outsidethe factory fuels our concern of the long-term impact to the water bodies in those areas.
· The Alliance appeals to the Tamilnadu public and to the Government to look out for any stockpiles ordumps of glass or thermometer wastes and report the same to the Alliance and/or the TamilnaduPollution Control Board.
· Despite the companyís assurances that their production practices pose no risk to the workers,statements from workers and ex-workers recorded by the Alliance indicate that mercury washandled casually in the factory shop-floor lending weight to allegations by many workers ofoccupational exposure to mercury and associated health effects.
"Workers tells us that mercury spillage on the floor, and intentional and accidental handling of mercury isroutine within the factory. Workers were certainly exposed to mercury vapours, more in some sectionsthan others," said Dr. Kolhatkar, a medical doctor and member of the Kodaikanal ConsumerAction Group.
"If big companies like HLL practices such dangerous working conditions, then one dreads to think whatsmall mercury thermometer factories around the country are doing", said Madhumita Dutta, a TAAMmember and activist with new Delhi based Toxics Link.
Incidentally, two months ago 118 tonnes stockpile of used toxic mercury from a closed down US basedchlorine-caustic factory was destined to be shipped to a secret recipient in India. The toxic tradewas stopped due to huge international opposition from environmental groups around the worldincluding Greenpeace, Toxics Link-India, Srishti-Delhi, Basel Action Network, All India Port andDock Workers' Federation, Penobscot Alliance for Mercury Elimination, Maine Peoples Alliance,Mercury Policy Project and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
"We strongly urge our government to take proactive measures and frame rules and policy with theultimate goal of eliminating mercury and encourage adoption of safer alternatives to the limitedapplication of mercury in the production processes and products", said Basel Action Networkspokesperson Ravi Agarwal in New Delhi.
1. On March 7, residents of Kodaikanal, HLLís ex-workers and environmental and human rights activistsexposed from HLLís recently discovered 15-ton mercury waste dumpsite to the factory gates todemand an immediate end to the mercury pollution.
Mercury, in the presence of water, readily converts into methyl mercury, a deadly poison, which ispersistent in the environment and moves through the food chain magnifying up to 100,000 times inquantity by the time it reaches the top predators in aquatic ecosystems.
2. Hindustan Leverís entire production from the thermometer factory is exported to the United States, forsale in Germany, UK, Spain, USA, Australia and Canada. The mercury for the plant is imported,mainly from the United States. The factory, set up in 1977, was a second-hand plant importedfrom Cheseborough Ponds from the United States, after the US factory was shutdown forunknown reasons. Hindustan Lever is a 51% owned subsidiary of Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever.
3. The Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury comprises local, national and international environmental,worker and human rights organizations.
4. Owing to the extreme toxicity of some of the mercury compounds and the practical difficulty in keepingpollution to harmless levels has resulted in various national and regional initiatives to eliminateall releases of mercury into the environment. In India, mercury is still classified as a low-level hazardaccording to the Ministry of Environment.
5. Health warnings have been issued in 41 states in the United States advising people to reduce oravoid consumption of fresh water fish and certain seafood due to mercury contamination. Goals havebeen set to virtually eliminate mercury releases from human activities in the New England states,the Great Lakes region and other states and provinces
6. Faced with growing environmental concerns surrounding the toxic metal, many US cities, states andhospitals are phasing out mercury thermometers as a first step towards eliminating mercuryreleases into the environment. Boston, San Francisco, and the US state of New Hampshire have outlawedmercury thermometers. In September 2000, 11 leading retailers and manufacturers in theUnited States, including Walmart, Kmart Corporation and Meijer's Supermarkets, announced thatthey would terminate sales of mercury fever thermometers.
For more information, contact:
Dr. Kolhatkar, Kodaikanal Consumer Action Group, Tel:04542-41315 Navroz Mody, Greenpeace: Mobile: 09820194022. Tel: 044 4462401 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Madhumita Dutta, Toxics Link-Delhi. Tel: 011 4328006/4320711 Email: email@example.com
Ravi Agarwal, Basel Action Network (India): Tel: 011 4328006/4320711 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on international mercury status: www.ban.org, www.mercurypolicy.org
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