Scores of non-toxic medicinal cooling packs lying near Greater Chennai Corporation’s dump site in Perungudi

Scrap dealers say the packs had non-toxic content such as gels which had been dissolved in the marshland, and the empty plastic waste would soon be sold to dealers outside the State

January 18, 2024 01:13 am | Updated 01:13 am IST - Chennai

Discarded waste: The packets, allegedly lying unattended since 2021, have been marked as food-safe, single-use and non-toxic.

Discarded waste: The packets, allegedly lying unattended since 2021, have been marked as food-safe, single-use and non-toxic. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Several non-toxic packaging materials used as coolants to keep medicines or vaccines at an optimal temperature have been allegedly lying unattended since 2021 on a land bordering the Greater Chennai Corporation’s (GCC’s) dumpsite in Perungudi and close to the Pallikaranai marshland.

The packs, marked as food-safe, single-use and non-toxic, are dated between late 2020 to mid 2021. Scrap dealers working on the land claimed that the contents were dissolved in the marshland so that the plastic packs could be sold to dealers outside Tamil Nadu. They plan to sell them by next week.

These are gel-iced packs, used in temperature-control packaging systems during transportation so that medicines are kept at an optimal temperature, said Vamsi Shankar Kapilavai, a senior researcher in the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG).

These are called slow-flowing gels that are non-toxic and are not a threat, he said, adding: “But plastic, even as a material, is toxic. There are enough studies to prove that. So, chemicals that leak from the plastic while interacting with the environment can turn into microplastics. This may degrade the soil and air.”

According to K. Sesuraj, 45, a scrap dealer who has set up sheds on the land, a few unknown pharmaceutical companies dumped the materials overnight during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. The administration of both Covishield and Covaxin vaccines began in January 2021.

He further said, “Initially, there was no wall separating the dumpsite from the land we use for handling scrap items such as discarded X-rays, plastic and electric items. Later that year, the GCC raised a wall demarcating the dumpsite and leaving out the area where all packets were disposed.”

“We had reported it to the local authorities, but no action was taken. Now, there are new officials. They have not spoken about clearing this. The plastic would be of use to us. So, we emptied the contents, dried them in the sun, and are planning to sell them probably next week,” he added.

Asked why it took so many years to get rid of the waste, he said they were clearing the contents and waiting for the interested parties to buy the packs. A dealer working with Mr. Sesuraj said interested parties in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh would repurpose the plastic packs after grinding them to bits in factories. Corporation officials did not ask us to deal with it. But, we will make a profit from this, so we took up the job,” she said.Greater Chennai Corporation Commissioner J. Radhakrishnan said the civic body would clear the waste, check and trace the source.

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