Indian pharma industry asked to sit up and take notice

A report by European non-profit agency, Changing Markets, alleges uncontrolled pollution from city’s drug-producing units

January 30, 2018 10:38 pm | Updated 10:38 pm IST - HYDERABAD

A leading European financial institution has called for increased efforts to tackle environmental pollution by the Indian pharma industry. The call was made in response to a report that alleged uncontrolled pollution from the city’s drug producing units.

A study conducted by the European non-profit agency, Changing Markets, which was commissioned by Sweden-based Nordea Bank, claims to have found high levels of heavy metals and industrial solvents in Hyderabad’s water bodies. The report also alleges that the pollution control efforts in the last two years have not worked.

The report titled ‘Hyderabad’s pharmaceutical pollution crisis: Heavy metal and solvent contamination at factories in a major Indian drug manufacturing hub’ was complied after field tests in April and September 2017. The Changing Markets claims its researchers found heavy metals, quantities exceeding regulatory norms, including hexavalent chromium, nickel, zinc and arsenic, in water sources around pharma units and water bodies, including the Hussainsagar lake.

Besides publishing its findings on industrial chemicals, the report also pointed to fish kills in lakes located around the pharma industry, linking industrial effluents to the kills.

The Changing Markets also hit out at the government, alleging that the Indian regulators were not holding the pharmaceutical industry to account. The report held out the threat that the Indian drug manufactures could jeopardise their supply contracts in Europe.

“For example, European NGOs have recently called for major procurement bodies, including the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), German health insurance companies, and French hospitals, to blacklist the worst-offending polluters and embed environmental criteria in all the contracts with pharmaceutical suppliers,” the report notes. “Several of these organisations are now reviewing the situation. In Sweden, the country’s regions have come together and introduced environmental criteria and audits in their contracts.”

The city’s pharma industry is said to account for nearly half of the country’s bulk drug exports, and is estimated at ₹1.5 lakh crore, according to the Economic Survey-2017-18 launched by the Finance Ministry.

“The pharmaceutical industry has to take action to tackle pollution at Indian factories supplying medicines to the global market. As a sustainable financial institution, we want to continue the engagement with the pharma industry in order to find constructive and concrete solutions for these significant challenges that are impacting millions of people and the environment,” said Sasja Beslik, Head of Group Sustainable Finance at Nordea. The city’s pharma industry in the past has maintained that there was no clear evidence to link growing antimicrobial resistance to its effluents. Multiple efforts to elicit comments on the Changing Market’s latest claims from the industry proved futile.

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