`Allow visual documentation of mercury export'

CHENNAI MARch 30. Environmentalists have hailed a Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) cleared project to a thermometer manufacturing unit in Kodaikanal to ship back its mercury and toxic waste to the United States, from where the raw material was procured.

However, they are demanding that they and the affected community be allowed to monitor the process in greater detail and assess damage caused to the "vulnerable environment," its residents and workers.

Addressing a press conference here today, Greenpeace and environmental activists said the move by Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) to decontaminate its Kodaikanal factory was a first. "However, there are gaps in what the company is set to do and we have indications that they will not allow transparency," the executive director of Greenpeace India, G. Ananthapadmanabhan, said.

"We demand full participation of the community in containment, transport and export of the mercury. We also want to be allowed to sample the shards of broken mercury, to visually document the process," a spokesperson for the Tamil Nadu Alliance Against Mercury, T. Mohan, said.

However, the TNPCB chairperson, Sheela Rani Chunkat, when contacted, said the board had already allowed activists to be in the monitoring team, but they had not received any representation yet for sampling and visual documentation. Allowing the activists to sample the waste would not be a problem. But on the demand for visual documentation, the board would have to consider it later, as a representation had not been made yet. "But these issues can always be discussed," she said.

Greenpeace conceded that some activists were permitted to monitor the process, but said TNPCB officials on the field had refused to allow them to sample the toxic waste or visually document the process.

According to the activists, the TNPCB, on advice from its Hazardous Waste Management Committee, directed HLL to begin containment work by March 25, and the first phase of sending out toxic waste had already begun, with about three weeks to go. The contaminated soil would later have to be permanently contained in a "less ecologically sensitive place," they said.

In a statement from HLL, its general manager (Corporate Communications), Shubhabrata Bhattacharya, said the company had started packing mercury-contained glass cullets in the presence of TNPCB officials and NGOs, including the Greenpeace and the Palani Hills Conservation Council. Besides, the TNPCB had sent 34 composite samples for analysis, he said.

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