Published: Wednesday 15 August 2001

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has confirmed that mercury-contaminated glass pieces were dumped at various locations in Kodaikanal by a thermometer factory of Unilever, a multinational company.

Though the company recently removed 5.3 tonnes of the waste from a local scrapyard, it still refuses to own up the responsibility for the health hazards that might have followed its illegal action (Read: Toxicity sealed', Down To Earth, July 15, 2001) .

The chairperson of TNPCB, Sheela Rani Chunkath said: "On June, 20, 2001, Unilever cleared tonnes of broken and crushed glass contaminated with mercury." As per the protocol approved by a working committee constituted by TNPCB, the waste was removed and then transported to the premises of the factory.

"Unilever's clean up efforts are a clear admission of guilt. This case represents only the tip of the iceberg of Unilever's toxic liabilities. Its shoddy handling and disposal of mercury wastes exposes its scant regard for the environment in countries like India where enforcement is lax. The safe removal of the wastes has prevented a disaster," said Navroz Modi of Greenpeace, an international pressure group.

He added that though the company has described the waste at the scrapyard as "tinged with mercury" and "having mercury slightly more than 50 milligrammes per kilogramme (mg/kg)," testing shows that the waste contained one per cent mercury, which works out to be 10,000 mg/kg. This clearly means an offence under the Hazardous Waste Management Act.

The controversy began when Greenpeace had reported about the dumping of the waste on March 7, 2001. Pressure by local non-governmental organisations forced Unilever to close down its factory located in the town.

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