Residents complain of skin allergies and breathing problems

Areca trees are not yielding nuts; tender coconuts are becoming dry; and jackfruits are shrivelling in Moodapadavu and Kuthethur villages near here. Residents have skin allergies and breathing problems too.

Farmers allege that the fire-spewing chimney of the Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. (MRPL), that is visible from their village, is making their lives miserable.

Their grouse is based on these facts: The Central Pollution Control Board found Mangalore to be the second most polluted city in the State in 2010. The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) in 2004 blamed a chemical leakage from the plant for the death of fish in a stream in the area. In 2001, the MRPL doled out compensation to families for an oil leak that contaminated drinking water.

The KSPCB report was on the leakage of oil and sulphur-based chemicals into the stream that flows through Moodapadavu. The water is used for irrigating fields.

“There is oil and sulphur in the groundwater. Plants do not get minerals from the water,” said Ronald D’Souza, who gave up farming after the declining yield in his one-acre paddy field made agriculture untenable.

Gracy D’Souza used to get six quintals of areca and 4,000 coconuts from his one-acre arecanut farm until five years ago. “Now, I get only around three quintals of areca and 2,000 coconuts. Trees get diseases and we are not able to control that. What can we expect when water smells like kerosene,” she asked.

For more than 96 families that stay along the stream that flows from within the MRPL premises towards the Nandini, the water serves as a lifeline for farming. Also, the company has dumped mud across the stream because of which water has turned murky brown.

And a film of oil is clearly visible. Residents say it has been years since a fish was found in the river.

Thomas Fernandes, a farmer downstream, blames the incessant light and smoke from the MRPL chimneys for crop damage. “There is light throughout the night. The gusts of wind brings with it heat and pollutants. Plants wither due to this,” he said.

Residents blamed the hovering smell of petrochemicals and the thick smoke for skin allergies and breathing problems.

Geeta Fernandes, a resident at Kular village, said: “My two grandchildren who are only three and five years fall ill almost every other week. Doctors told us it is because of the polluted air.”

In two letters to the company on May 10, copies of which are with The Hindu, Shridhar Shetty, president of the Permude Gram Panchayat, informed the refinery that borewells were drawing oil-contaminated water and dumping of mud into the stream would lead to flooding during monsoon.

“The company is yet to reply. We want them to first stabilise the drinking water supply in the region, and then arrange water for agriculture,” he said.

MRPL officials said they had been conducting monthly checks of all streams in the area and did not find “any adverse effects” and “no evidence of oil leakage”. “If there is a specific complaint, we will send our team there and check,” said an official. He claimed that they had not got the letters from the gram panchayat. On the issue of the “contaminated” water, an official blamed the reddish colour of the water on the “laterite soil, whose iron-rich content discoloured the water”.

KSPCB officials said that they had been regularly testing water bodies and wells close to the refinery. “Pollution is within permissible limits. There will be a smell or discolouring of water as pollutants cannot be reduced to an absolute zero,” said N. Lakshman, environmental officer. The Agriculture Department had to certify the crop loss, he said.

Narayan Shetty, Assistant Director of Agriculture, said he had not received any specific complaint.