Toxicity sealed!

Unilever shuts down its mercury concentration camp in Kodaikanal

Published: Sunday 15 July 2001

after a lot of protests and pressure from activists and the civil society, the Anglo-Dutch multinational, Unilever, will permanently close its polluting thermometer manufacturing factory in the tourist town of Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu.

The company has also agreed to clean up the mess 5.3 tonnes of highly toxic mercury waste that the company dumped in open scrap yards in the town for over 18 years. The company suspended its operations after citizens of the town with the help of international pressure group, Greenpeace, exposed the dumping, amid denials from the company. The unit in Kodaikanal is considered to be the largest mercury based thermometer manufacturing factory in the world.

"Unilever's agreement now to clean up the scrapyard is a clear admission of its guilt," said Eco Matser, Greenpeace's toxics campaigner in the Netherlands. "But the Kodaikanal dumpsite is only a small part of this company's toxic liabilities. The company's shoddy disposal of mercury wastes exposes its scant regard for the environment in countries like India where environmental regulations are lax," he added.

After the furore created by the citizens of Kodaikanal, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board constituted a committee to look into the matter. They have come out with a report. Though Unilever also conducted an environmental audit, the figures they have come up with are said to be conservative estimates. Moreover, Unilever is also denying the health impacts of the mercury on workers dealing with the metal. It says that the toxic metal has affected none of its workers.

However, Greenpeace says that 10 workers below the age of 40 had died while working in the factory. Many others are suffering from kidney, stomach and infertility problems. Some women are also suffering a range of gynaecological disorders. Greenpeace alleges that the company has neither conducted a comprehensive and scientific epidemiological study nor published the basis of its claims that no workers were ever affected.

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