Sodium chromate fears drive activists to oppose planned factory in Nalgonda village

Hazardous nature of the chromate ore processing residue is not mentioned in the draft EIA report

By Arya Rohini
Published: Monday 10 October 2022
Deccan Chromitesabandoned 0.1 million tonnes of chromite ore processing residue, which continuously leached hexavalent chromium through a stream joining the Krishna. A hazardous pool of hexavalent chromium is seen in the picture.Photo: Scientists for society.__

A section of environmentalists have flagged irregularities in the draft Environmental Impact Assessment report for a proposed chemical plant in Telangana’s Nalgonda district.

An electric utility provider, Krishna Godavari Power Utilities ltd, has proposed a sodium saccharin unit in Nalgonda’s Wadapally village. Farmers and environmentalists have strongly objected to the proposal.

“The project uses outdated technology to produce sodium dichromate from chromite ore, while disguising itself as a sodium saccharin unit,” K Babu Rao, a retired chief scientist from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, told Down To Earth.

Sodium dichromate is a hazardous chemical. It is corrosive to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. Exposure to the substance may cause affect kidney and liver, according to a joint brochure issued by the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization.

“The substance may result in kidney impairment. This substance is carcinogenic to humans,” the brochure added.

Villagers in Dameracherla Mandal had already suffered the effect of sodium chromate pollution. They had to wage years of battle before ending the operations of Deccan Chromates Ltd (DCL) in 2014.

The company abandoned 100,000 tonnes of chromite ore processing residue, which continuously leached hexavalent chromium through a stream joining the Krishna.

“The villagers lost several cattle, goats and sheep from drinking contaminated water,” N Harinder, Nalgonda district president of Human Rights Forum, a voluntary rights organisation, told DTE.

Even a brief exposure to the substance can damage tissues.

“A few years back, we visited a former Deccan Chromate employee to study the implications of sodium chromate exposure. His nasal septum has ruptured despite barely working there for a few weeks,” said Rao.

The WHO brochure also says about its impact on the nasal septum.

“Repeated or prolonged inhalation may cause nasal ulceration. This may result in perforation of the nasal septum,” it read.

DCL has affected the lives and livelihoods of fishermen in the region.

They frequently lament fewer catches due to dangerous substances being swept up from DCL’s untreated landfills, said Harinder.

The WHO brochure has also warned about its long-term impact on aquatic ecosystems.

“The substance is very toxic to aquatic organisms. It may cause long-term effects on the marine environment. It is strongly advised not to let the chemicals enter the environment,” the advisory read.

The proposed project is nearly seven times larger than that of DCL and is located near the Krishna-Musi confluence.

The industry will affect three villages — Wadapally, Irki Gudem in the Nalgonda district and Pondgula in the Guntur district. These plants will damage the rivers, said Harinder.

More than a crore people in Andhra and Telangana rely on Krishna waters for drinking. Hence, the ramifications of the current project are terrifying, he added.

Krishna Godavari Power Utilities ltd proposes setting up a unit, producing 12,000 tonnes per annum (TPA) of sodium saccharin and its bi-products, stated the documents submitted by the company before the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC)

“The bi-products are — sodium dichromate (50,000 TPA), basic chromium sulphate (100,000 TPA) and white sodium sulphate (15,000 TPA),” the document added.

The EIA report blindly repeated the same without questioning the scientific abnormalities in the documents, said Rao.

“Sodium dichromate is not a by-product of sodium saccharin. It is a hexavalent chromium compound that oxidises O-Toluene Sulphonamide to saccharin,” he said.

Sodium saccharin is an organic compound used mainly in pharmaceutical industries.

“They called it a sodium saccharin company to silence public outrage. The villagers will not let another sodium chromate company in the region since they are aware of its hazardous nature,” he added.

The hazardous nature of the chromite ore processing residue is not mentioned in the draft EIA report.

The report diluted its hazardous nature with a statement, “approximately 200 TPD of solid waste will be created during operation of the planned ferro-alloy plant and will be disposed of correctly.”

Some 200 TPD of Chrome ore processing residue will be sent to an approved hazardous waste management facility in Hyderabad, the company said in its report to the MoE&FCC.

For KGP, the disposal cost amounts to Rs 4 lakh Rs per day as the company generates 200 tonnes of waste daily. DCL had left some 100,000 tonnes of hazardous wastes in the 10 acres of land owned by the company. They have not disposed of it to date despite producing nearly a tenth (22-30 TPA) of that of the proposed plant, said Rao.

The expert argued that terms of reference (ToR) were issued hastily without proper scrutiny.

“It is highly unjust to force a public hearing on people based on false EIA. MoE&FCC should cancel the ToR issued in error and ask for a fresh EIA for sodium dichromate, basic chromium sulphate and sodium saccharin,” he said.

The project area is evenly distributed among Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. However, the committee has used baseline data from just one site, Pondugala village, in Andhra. Public hearings must also be held in both states in case of inter-state projects. 

“Public hearings must be held in Andhra as well. But no such notification has yet been made,” said Harinder. Telangana’s public hearing scheduled for October 10 has been postponed indefinitely for unspecified reasons.

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