Press release - March 9, 2001
MUMBAI/ CHENNAI, India — Palni Hills Conservation Council, United Citizens Council of Kodaikanal, Greenpeace and New Delhi-based Toxics Link have dismissed as an "insensitive PR exercise" Hindustan Lever's official response of temporarily suspending production at their polluting mercury thermometer factory in Kodaikanal

The groups were responding to HLL's attempt to "cover up" their environmental crime by saying that there was a "remote chance" that mercury-containing broken thermometers may have left the factory and attributing it to a possible "human error."

On March 7, the people of Kodaikanal (a beautiful hill town in South India), took action against Hindustan Lever's mercury thermometer factory after they found several illegal and polluting mercury waste dumpsites in Kodaikanal. Hindustan Lever is a 51% owned subsidiary of Anglodutch multinational Unilever. The Indian thermometer unit uses a second-hand plant that was relocated from the United States to manufacture thermometers for export to the United States.

"On March 7 Hindustan Lever vehemently denied all allegations. On March 8, they admitted that there is a remote possibility that contaminated wastes may have left the factory. Now they are looking at dismissing the whole thing as the result of a small human error. This sounds uncannily like Carbide's sabotage theory in Bhopal," said Navroz Mody, Greenpeace campaign director. "We are just not interested in a Bhopal-style cover-up. If Hindustan Lever does not know how much mercury contaminated wastes has left its factory, it is irresponsible and insensitive to say that what left the factory was only "some glass with mercury waste."

In Kodaikanal, ex-workers, community groups and concerned individuals are getting together to launch an anti-mercury front. Members of the to-be-launched front are unhappy at what they call HLL's "continued posturing rather than offering an immediate and full acknowledgement of the existence of the problem and an unconditional apology for the mercury pollution."

Hindustan Lever's statement that production would be resumed only after HLL "had fully satisfied itself that the factory's continued operation would not cause any hazard to the local environment," has also drawn the community's ire.

"We're not just talking about ongoing or future pollution. We're talking about the deadly mercury wastes that we saw dumped in the forests; the tonnes and tonnes of broken thermometers that are now lying in the scrapyard," said R. Kannan of Palni Hills Conservation Council. "Hindustan Lever is treating us like we are some idiots. They should get this straight. If they want to continue using mercury, let them take their factory back to America."

The environmental and community groups have demanded that:

1. HLL should apologise to the people of Kodaikanal for the pollution caused by the factory in Kodaikanal;

2. HLL should ensure that the financial well-being of current workers is not jeopardised by their decision to suspend operations;

3. HLL should cooperate fully with the authorities and pay for the isolation and clean-up of the mercury scrapyard in Moonjikal using the state-of-the-art in environmental remediation;

4. HLL should permanently end the use of mercury;

5. HLL should pay for a comprehensive environmental impact assessment and come clean with all details about the history of illegal and unsound dumping by the factory;

6. HLL should pay for a full medical investigation of all its ex- and current workers and potentially affected community members;

7. HLL should pay for full restoration of health of the people contaminated because of mercury pollution from the thermometer factory;

8. HLL should account for all the wastes that have historically left the factory.