A new study done by a Chennai-based NGO Community Environmental Monitoring has found high levels of toxic mercury in vegetation and sediment collected in the vicinity of Hindustan Unilever’s now closed mercury thermometer factory in Kodaikanal.
The NGO collected lichen, moss and sediment samples for the study in April 2015. These samples were analysed at the Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE) National Centre for Compositional Characterisation of Materials (NCCCM) in Hyderabad.
The study further confirmed that HUL’s factory site is still contaminating the air and leaking poisons into its surroundings, including into the ecologically sensitive Pambar Shola and the Pambar River. “The factory site continues to release mercury into the environment,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, advisor to Community Environmental Monitoring.
Lichen samples were taken from near a stream emanating from the factory and flowing through the Pambar Shola Reserve forest contained 53 mg/kg of mercury. A moss sample from the same location contained 8.68 mg/kg and a lichen sample collected from a property across the street from the factory contained 2.96 mg/kg of mercury.
“Sediment samples collected from inside Pambar Shola too showed high levels of mercury,” he said. Statistics indicate that levels of more than 1 mg/kg mercury in lichen and moss indicate that the ambient air is highly contaminated.
Mr. Nityanand noted that efforts to reach HUL have turned futile. Repeated letters to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board demanding a scientific and transparent clean up have elicited no response.
When contacted, HUL said that it has explained everything in detail already on its website. According to a statement on the company’s website, “HUL did not dump glass waste contaminated with mercury on land behind its factory. The plant and machinery and materials used in thermometer manufacturing at the site were decontaminated and disposed of as scrap to industrial recyclers.”