Tamilnadu Groups Lauch Alliance Against Mercury and Lever

Press release - March 28, 2001
TAMIL NADU, India — Appalled by the insensitivity and unresponsiveness of the management of Hindutan Lever's thermometer factory regarding the dumping of deadly mercury wastes in Kodaikanal, citizens' groups in Kodaikanal have drawn support from human rights and environmental organisations throughout Tamilnadu to launch the Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury.

On 7 March, residents of Kodaikanal and numerous environmental groups exposed an illegal dumpsite containing 15 tons of mercury-containing broken thermometers from Hindustan Lever's mercury thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamilnadu. After initially denying the reports, Hindustan Lever promptly began a cover up PR exercise that is ongoing to dismiss the 15-ton poisonous dump as the result of a possible "human error."

"It's now five days since we exposed Hindustan Lever's illegal dumpsite in Kodai. They still haven't acknowledged that they dumped the wastes, leave alone apologise or clean up," said Navroz Mody, Greenpeace campaign director. "They are more concerned about their image and hushing it up than they are about protecting the lives of people and the quality of the environment."

The Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury was formed after Hindustan Lever, a majority owned subsidiary of Anglodutch multinational Unilever, failed to provide information regarding its past shipments of potentially mercury-contaminated crushed glass and broken thermometers. On 12 March, more than 30 groups from all over Tamilnadu gathered in Kodaikanal to discuss remedies to Lever's illegal dumping.

The groups are working on reports from workers that many such shipments may have been sent by the factory to different parts of Tamilnadu. Given the toxicity of mercury and its ability to contaminate water, the groups are concerned that populations and the environment may unknowingly be victimised by Hindustan Lever's poisons.

"Unilever is behaving like any multinational by covering up, lying, and hoping that this will die down. We're surprised how the individuals in Unilever can live this down that their inaction may cause the poisoning of unknown masses," said R. Kannan of Palni Hills Conservation Council.

In the absence of any cooperation from the authorities or the company in identifying and locating the illegal mercury waste dumpsites spread throughout Tamilnadu, the Tamilnadu Alliance Against Mercury will.