Eloor Pesticide Plant Fire - Greenpeace Demands Closure Of HIL and other Hazardous Units

Residents Concerned About Long Term Health Impacts.

Feature story - July 7, 2004
COCHIN, India — Employees of Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL) and over 30000 local residents had a miraculous escape when a devastating fire broke out at HIL’s Endosulphan producing facility at Eloor, in the early hours of 6th July. The plant also manufactures DDT, Dicofol and Mancozeb at the site. The fire broke out in the third floor of the four storied building and gutted down the entire plant. 12 fire tenders were required to put out the blaze. The plant has been temporarily shut down and the company is yet to make the cause of this disaster public.

The burnt factory premises: a health hazard to local residents

Toxic gases and smoke spread all over the island of Eloor, forcing many people to abandon their homes and rush to the banks of the river Periyar. A State Medical Team, which had come to assess the situation, reported that the residents were complaing of atypical symptoms (local and systemic) inclusive of irritation to the eyes and skin, headaches and dizziness, convulsions and unconsciousness related to exposure to Endosulphan and toluene.

"We have been demanding our fundamental Right to Information on the Hazardous Chemicals used, processed and manufactured in the area and have also been demanding that the factories make transparent and implement a disaster management plan and an emergency response system. The response from the concerned regulatory bodies such as the PCB, the Factories Department and the State Health and Industries Department have been apathetic to say the least " said VJ Jose, Greenpeace appointed Periyar River Keeper. "The Industries in the area and their management have been completely ignoring the community demands, as the community is dependent on the factories here. Over the last 3 years the community here has witnessed quite a few gas leaks and accidents" he further added.

This disaster in itself is just the tip of the iceberg. The thermal degradation of products such as Endosulphan , HCCP and Toluene could be highly corrosive and toxic and could have long-term effects on the environment and people here. Further, the combustion of Organochlorine products could very well result in the release of dioxins and furans, which would compound the problem.

"This is a dark day for the workers and communities at Eloor, whose lives are blighted by exposure to toxic pollution caused by the industries here. If industries are not held accountable for their environmental crimes, they will continue in their current mode of poisoning the workers, communities and our Periyar. The accident at HIL is the final nail in the coffin. We will no longer tolerate this" said VJ Jose.

The Eloor Industrial area on the banks or River Periyar hosts over 250 industries with more than a dozen large chemical factories. Hindustan Insecticides Limited has been in the eye of the storm for quite some time now. Greenpeace declared Eloor to be a Global Toxic Hotspot when scientific Studies conducted in 1999 and 2002 revealed the serious pollution at Eloor and of the Periyar with persistent organic and inorganic compounds and heavy metals. Some of these are Persistent Organic Pollutants that not only contaminate the local environment, but also circulate around the globe. A health study conducted by Greenpeace in 2003 further established that the people in Eloor are suffering from a number of diseases linked to the contamination of their land, air and water by these poisons, and that the incidence of death and diseases is unnaturally high.

"The present toxic crisis at the Eloor Industrial belt is the result of decades of shortsighted planning. The tactics employed by the Industry and the Government is a dangerous manifestation of their reluctance to address the real problem of pollution. Eloor is yet another Bhopal happening in slow motion. Ironically, it seems that the Government is waiting for a calamity of gigantic proportions to happen before they react in favour of the community" said Sanjiv Gopal, Campaigner Greenpeace.

"The demands from the community, and from Greenpeace are clear- Irresponsible and reckless functioning Industries such as HIL must be stopped NOW. Clean production technologies, environmentally sound containment of hazardous wastes and zero discharge is the only way forward if these industries must function" he further added.

Greenpeace demands:-

* Complete access to the factory site for independent observers, to enable them to assess and recommend precautions, which need to be taken to remediate the environmental and community health impacts at Eloor.

* Cancellation of HIL's permissions and immediate closure of the factory and other hazardous units operating in the Eloor Industrial Estate

* The Government of Kerala undertakes comprehensive health investigations to assess the impacts of this disaster on human health.

* The Government of India reassesses current Industrial planning and operational policies and makes it mandatory for industries to incorporate clean production technologies in their processes.

For further information, please contact:

Sanjiv Gopal, Toxics Campaigner, Greenpeace India: +919845535416