Greens oppose scheme to dump toxic mercury in India

Press release - November 28, 1999
NEW DELHI, India — US and India-based activist groups have joined hands to prevent the export of a 118 ton-stockpile of used and toxic mercury from the United States to an undisclosed destination in India, according to Indian citizen groups Greenpeace, Toxics Link and Basel Action Network.

The mercury stockpile, which is the largest in the United States, was recovered from HoltraChem, a Maine-based chlorine-caustic factory. D.F. Goldsmith and Metal Corp., an Illinois-based trader has purchased the stockpile, allegedly for shipment to a secret recipient in India.

Companies and Government agencies in the US do not want to adopt the stockpile because of the severe environmental liabilities and potential environmental risks associated with storing the metal, which is known to be a deadly nerve poison.

Following protests by Maine-based NGOs, the Governor of Maine approached the US Government to prevent the export and instead add the stockpile to the existing store of used mercury in the US Department of Defense's stockpile. Neither Maine nor any of the neighbouring states have any facilities to store the material. The US Government has refused to accept the mercury stockpile claiming they lack authority to do so.

"The United States government is an accomplice in poisoning the poor for profit. It is deplorable that we are preparing to send to India a highly toxic substance that we do not want to live with in the United States," said Lisa Finaldi, Greenpeace USA's toxics campaigner. "Even as we phase out this toxic metal from our products and lives in the United States, we shamelessly export it to industrializing countries knowing fully well the magnitude of damage to human lives and environment it can cause in these countries."

Faced with growing environmental concerns surrounding the toxic metal, many US cities, states and hospitals are phasing out mercury thermometers as a first step towards eliminating mercury releases into the environment. Boston, San Francisco, and the US state of New Hampshire have outlawed mercury thermometers. In September, 11 leading retailers and manufacturers, including Walmart, Kmart Corporation and Meijer's Supermarkets, announced that they would terminate sales of mercury fever thermometers.

"In India, this import can preempt fledgling attempts by Indian groups to frame rules to handle existing mercury contamination and to find alternatives to mercury," said Basel Action Network spokesperson Ravi Agarwal in New Delhi.

Over the last few years, Greenpeace, Basel Action Network and Toxics Link have highlighted numerous instances of toxic trade, of hazardous waste dumping and the export of dirty, obsolete products or technologies by industrialized countries into India. India seems to be a preferred dumping ground for the West.

The activist groups have raised the matter with the US Embassy and the Government of India, and have alerted the trade unions, including the dockworkers unions. The groups have also expressed their appreciation to the US citizens groups and the Maine Governor Angus King for their efforts to sensitise the US Government on this latest instance "toxic trade."

"We have had enough of USA's toxic imperialism, where unwanted and dangerous substances, technologies and wastes are routinely dumped on industrializing countries," said Madhumita Dutta, an activist with New Delhi-based Toxics Link. "India must refuse the import of this horribly toxic and persistent poison. Instead, India must begin to work on policies that phase out our own use of the metal at home.