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As reported by Gokul Chandrasekar at expressbuzz.com on 21 Jun 2010 MORE skeletons have tumbled out of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board's (TNPCB) closet relating to its actions on the Kodaikanal mercury leak cleanup, this time in the form of false claims in its status note to the Union environment ministry and specifying cleanup standards that have not been scientifically validated. Following an alarm raised by activists in early March this year on the dilution of mercury remediation standards at the contaminated sites in Pambar Shola forest from 10 mg/kg to 25 mg/kg, secretary to Union environment minister Rahul Bojja wrote to the pollution control board seeking an explanation. In response, TNPCB chairman on March 20 submitted a detailed status note to Bojja. A copy of the note accessed and reviewed by Express shows certain claims made by the TNPCB to be inaccurate, if the RTI replies provided by the board itself are anything to go by. For starters, the status note claims that the local area environment committee that was constituted by the pollution board on the recommendations of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) in 2004 to monitor the cleanup, was dissolved by the SCMC itself. However, replies to RTI applications show that neither the SCMC directed the pollution control board to dissolve the panel nor has the board dissolved it till date. "The role of the local area environment committee and working committee has been crucial in the monitoring of the cleanup. The discovery of mercury dumping was not made by the pollution control board but by locals and workers of the factory. The working committee comprising locals also ensured removal, containment and export of more than 270 tons of mercury scrap to USA in 2003. However, after 2005 the board never convened both the working committee and local area committee meetings. Now, in the status note, the pollution control board claims that the local committee has been dissolved when no records of dissolution exist," said Navroz Mody, a member of the working committee. "The entire status note presented to the ministry also masks the violation of the SCMC's directives to the board. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) was to be engaged by the pollution control board as an independent assessing agency, according to the SCMC's directives. Instead, it was engaged by Hindustan Lever as a paid consultant," pointed out Nityanand Jayaraman of Corporate Accountability Desk, an NGO. He has written to Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh pointing out the inaccuracies in the status note. "Further, NEERI was directed to submit a report on machinery decontamination and soil remediation to the working committee. But decontamination began without a report being submitted to the local and working committees thereby avoiding public oversight. The status note masks all these issues," he added. Another submission in the status note inadvertently revealed that the diluted remediation standard of 2025mg/kg, prescribed by Hindustan Lever's consultant ERM, was not based on scientific validation or empirical data but purely on probabilistic means. So, on what basis did the scientific expert committee approve the non-validated and diluted standards proposed by ERM? The note is silent on that. The pollution control board and the experts committee are now planning to get the risk analysis report revalidated through a national institution like Indian Institute of Toxicology Research. However, according to environmentalists, it is not revalidation but a fresh risk analysis that is the need of the hour. "Revalidation will only examine if the standards are safe for residential purposes. But we are not just talking about residential standards. We are talking about a sensitive ecosystem rich in biodiversity that will be a sitting duck to mercury poisoning," said Jayaraman.
As reported in expressbuzz.com on 09 March 2010: http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=RTI+papers+reveals+dilution+in+remediation+stand&artid=ErdVpLqf3xY=&SectionID=lifojHIWDUU=&MainSectionID=lifojHIWDUU=&SEO=Tamil+Nadu+Pollution+Control+Board+%28TNPCB%29&SectionName=rSY|6QYp3kQ= RTI papers reveals dilution in remediation stand CHENNAI: Environmental organisations and activists have called for an inquiry into the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), based on RTI documents that indicate their alleged collusion with Hindustan Unilever in downgrading remediation standards for mercury contaminated sites in Kodaikanal. “TNPCB and NEERI colluded with HUL to keep the public in the dark and dilute cleanup standards from the originally proposed 10mg/kg to 25mg/ kg of mercury in soil. This standard is 25 times lower than what Unilever adopts in its home country, the UK, which has a standard of 1mg/kg of mercury in soil for even residential areas,” says Rajagopal Durairaja of Tamil Nadu Alliance Against Mercury (TNAAM). The result: more than 100 kg of mercury will now be left behind in the soil even after cleanup in the site, which is ecologically sensitive and houses 17 endemic species of plants. “The mercury factory lies entirely within the Pambar Shola watershed. Every drop of water from the factory drains out into the Pambar river, which gradually joins the Vaigai, an important source of drinking water, raising safety concerns,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, advisor to TNAAM. Activists also allege a conflict of interest. “Even while serving as a member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on mercury contamination in Kodaikanal by HUL, NEERI consented to serve as the company’s paid consultant, in a blatant display of conflict of interest and abuse of office. How can one expect stringent norms when the consulting authority itself is paid for by the company in question?” asks Jayaraman. In a letter to TNPCB in 2005, the Supreme Court monitoring committee had expressed concern over HUL directly financing the consultant, which was not in keeping with the committee’s directions. The dilution of standards, according to activists, happened over a period of time starting in 2005, when the existing public monitoring committee set up in 2001 with people’s representation by the then TNPCB chairman Sheela Rani Chungath, was sidelined and an experts’ committee comprising scientists alone took over.
As reported by ENS in newindpress.com in 16 July 2008: Pollution control board asked to come clean - Newindpress.com Pollution control board asked to come clean SALEM: Agitated by the lack of transparency in the functioning of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), 100 people, mostly farmers, on Tuesday sought clarifications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act from the District Environmental Engineer�s office. �TNPCB has consistently treated citizens as trouble-makers and enemies, and has gone out of its way to support polluters,� they alleged. Highlighting the case of an illegal coal yard, currently being constructed by Chemplast Sanmar Ltd at the Mettur Railway Station yard, representatives of Gonur West Agriculturalists Development Union said the TNPCB has admitted that coal yards have not even applied for the required consent under Air and Water Acts. However, nothing has been done to stop the construction of the coal yard despite repeated complaints about the illegality. Mettur residents said they have sufficient information to file a Vigilance complaint against Chennai-based TNPCB officials, in a case concerning a new thermal power plant being constructed by Chemplast in Mettur. The people sought information on details of clearances given to each of the operations of the industries in Mettur, their operational details, history of compliance/violation of TNPCB norms, environmental laws etc. They also questioned the TNPCB how Malco (a aluminium smelting company in Mettur) was allowed to expand its production capacity and set up a new thermal power plant despite G O Ms 213 of 1989 and G O Ms 127 of 1998 that prohibits the setting up or expansion of polluting industries within 5 km of important rivers like Cauveri. Similarly, residents of Kitchipalayam (also known as Kuppamedu) - the site of Salem Municipality�s garbage dump - filed applications seeking copies of the consent to establish and operate a dump yard by the Corporation.