Tamil Nadu

Two decades of callousness

Heaps of hexavalent chromium waste has been lying on the premises of the Tamil Nadu Chromates and Chemicals Limited at an industrial estate in Ranipet for nearly two decades.

Heaps of hexavalent chromium waste has been lying on the premises of the Tamil Nadu Chromates and Chemicals Limited at an industrial estate in Ranipet for nearly two decades.   | Photo Credit: Photo: C. Venkatachalapathy

Chromium-bearing waste lying on open land within Tamil Nadu Chromates and Chemicals Limited at SIPCOT Industrial Complex, polluting groundwater in a 30-km radius

For nearly two decades, tonnes of chromium-bearing waste have been lying on an open land within the abandoned premises of the Tamil Nadu Chromates and Chemicals Limited (TCCL) at the SIPCOT Industrial Complex, Ranipet.

Experts and environmentalists say the chromium dump site has already contaminated groundwater in a 30-km radius in the district.

Commissioned in 1976, the TCCL was involved in the production of sodium dichromate, basic chromium sulphate and sodium sulphate. It stopped manufacturing in 1995 and has been abandoned since then. An estimated 1.5 lakh tonnes of chromium-bearing waste continue to remain there posing a serious health threat.

12 identified sites

This is among the 12 sites identified across the country for hazardous waste contaminated dumpsites, according to officials of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). In fact, the site is just a few metres away from the place where the wall of a secure land fill collapsed last week.

Both the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the TNPCB have reported that haphazard disposal of the hexavalent chromium-bearing waste over a 20-year period has led to piling of waste up to a height of three to five metres over two to four hectares. During rains, yellow coloured leachate containing hexavalent chromium flows on the ground level and percolates through subsurface, contaminating the soil and groundwater.

Studies have suggested that the waste can be relocated to a more secured location.

“Way back in 1996, a conference was organised in Chennai to discuss the method of disposing the chromium-bearing waste at Ranipet,” said R. Natarajan, director, Carbon Dioxide Research and Green Technologies Centre, VIT University, who had participated in the conference when he was adviser and consultant of TIFAC, part of the Department of Science and Technology.

Causes cancer

“Chromium is a heavy metal and causes cancer. It is estimated that already it has contaminated groundwater in a 30-km radius in the district. Water has turned yellowish in several localities,” he said adding that the chromium waste could be disposed off by converting in into trivalent chromium or chromium itself that would have several uses.

A. Asokan, secretary of Movement of Environmental Protection and Social Development, Vellore, said plenty of damage had been done owing to inaction on the part of the district administration and the TNPCB. “The groundwater has been contaminated and people are drinking it,” he said.

TNPCB officials said the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, under the National Clean Energy Fund Project, was preparing a proposal for remediation measures at the dumpsite.

“The Ministry is formulating a scheme and has engaged an agency to prepare a detailed project report. This is in coordination with the CPCB and the TNPCB. Studies have been conducted and samples collected from the site,” a senior official said.

Once the plan is drafted, global tenders will be called for choosing agencies experienced in the field. “The right choice of remediation will be identified along with global partners. There are many methods of decontaminating the site and this will be deliberated,” he added.

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2020 10:20:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/ranipet-tannery-tragedy-two-decades-of-callousness/article6852024.ece

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