Greenpeace spooks HLL AGM; Demand Public Apology for Kodaikanal Mercury disaster

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Feature story - August 4, 2004
MUMBAI, India — Mumbai, June 29: Greenpeace activists along with socially responsible shareholders today confronted the directors of Hindustan Lever at its Annual General body Meeting demanding clarity on the steps being taken to remediate the site of the now-closed mercury thermometer factory in Kodaikanal. The activists also raised the issue of rehabilitation of the ex-workers and demanded a public apology from the company.

A Greenpeace supporter and HLL shareholder exposing the company's lies at it's AGM, 2004.

A number of shareholders expressed concerns about the standard and cost of the proposed clean-up of the factory site and its impact for the shareholders. Greenpeace activists pointed out that the company seems to be shying away from an internationally acceptable standard for remediation of mercury contaminated soil and trying to impose a lesser standard which is not acceptable to the environmental organizations.

Ameer Shahul, representing Greenpeace said that "the company has been deliberately delaying the clean-up and remediation by not submitting the required protocols to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in the belief that delay will result in reduction of Mercury levels in soil and air. On the contrary, a recent study by Department of Atomic Energy has shown that the Mercury levels outside the factory was close to at least 130 times of normal levels and the Mercury has reached 20 km deep inside the forests.(1) "

S A Mahendra, president of the HLL Ex-Mercury Employees Association, said "We want HLL to issue a public apology to the people of Kodaikanal, for playing with the lives of hundreds of workers and blemishing the pristine forest. We also want them to take responsibility for the death of 15 ex-workers who succumbed to renal and neurological complications." Many of the ex-workers are suffering from similar complications and the company would get into serious financial liability, if the workers dragged the company to the court, the activists warned.

Greenpeace activists who attended the meeting as shareholders after buying the shares of the company said the Hindustan Lever has not been practicing what its parent company Unilever is preaching. Unilever's 2003 Environment Report read "all Unilever companies must comply with Unilever standards for occupational health and safety, environmental care and consumer safety, in a manner that recognizes and is consistent with local legislation".

The Thermometer factory in Kodaikanal was forced to be closed down after Greenpeace along with local community exposed in March 2001 large quantum of mercury bearing waste glass it had dumped in a local scrap yard. Last year, the company was forced to send to the US 289 tons of mercury bearing waste after the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board asked it to do so.

Notes to the Editor:

1. "Anaysis of Charcoal filters which were used for the sorption of Mercury in air around the factory analysed through this acqeous extraction indicated that Mercury concentration in air near the Thermometer factory was around 1.32 microgram per cubic meter which is very much higher than the nominal Mercury concentration range (0.5-10 nanogram per cubic meter) reported (Horvat, et al 2000) as typical non-contaminated areas".

"The concentration profiles on the composite samples of moss and lichen from 12 different locations indicated that the lowest concentration of Mercury of 0.2 mg/kg was found in lichen and moss samples collected about 20 km away from the factory, near a pristine lake area".

Study of mercury pollution near a thermometer factory using lichens and mosses

By M.V. Balarama Krishna, D. Karunasagar, J. Arunachalam*

National Centre for Compositional Characterisation of Materials (CCCM),

Department of Atomic Energy, E.C.I.L. Post, Hyderabad 500 062, India

Environmental Pollution 124 (2003) 357-360

For more information please contact:

1. Ameer Shahul, Greenpeace India: Ph: +98455-35408

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