Hindustan Lever Limited Found Guilty again

The Department of Atomic Research confirms Greenpeace findings of mercury contamination in Kodaikanal

Feature story - February 4, 2004
KODAIKANAL, India — Corporates like Hindustan Lever give total disregard to matters concerning willife and the environmnet. Greenpeace had released the report clearly indicating mercury contamination of the entire area adjoining the Thermometer factory owned by them. Now the Department of Atomic Research, Government of India has confirmed the findings.

Corporate Accountability Now!!

February 2004: A shocking new report by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has substantiated Greenpeace's evidence that the environment around the HLL thermometer factory in Kodaikanal is severely contaminated with mercury - mercury levels are as much as a thousand times over normal, in fact.

Greenpeace first published a technical report, "Atmospheric dispersal of mercury from the HLL thermometer factory, Tamil Nadu, India using lichen as a bio-monitor" by the Greenpeace Research Laboratories in UK. This report demonstrated the spread of mercury through the atmosphere to areas that an earlier assessment commissioned by HLL had failed to investigate. These include Bombay Shola, Vattakanal Shola and a residential area some way from the factory.

Although HLL sought to avoid responding to the Greenpeace report, this new report has confirmed the presence of mercury yet again. The new findings come out of the analysis of air and lichen samples by scientists at the National Centre for Compositional Characterisation of Materials - a Hyderabad-based institute under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). The report was published in the European Journal Environmental Pollution. (For a PDF copy of the report, please see the Related Documents link below.)

According to the report, the DAE team says it found the atmospheric mercury levels near the factory to be 1.32 micrograms per cubic meter - about thousand times higher than what is normally found in uncontaminated areas.

J Arunachalam, one of the authors of the study and head of the DAE centre is quoted in a PTI report as having stated that in their view "the disused factory is still a source of mercury pollution perhaps because discarded factory scraps and contaminated vegetation in the area are re-emitting adsorbed mercury into the atmosphere". "Being land-locked and surrounded by hills, the trapped mercury vapour is still floating around," the scientist said. "In our view it will take years for the mercury to clear up," he added.

DAE scientists - M V Balarama Krishna, D Karunasagar and J Arunachalam - who collected air samples in charcoal filters and measured the absorbed mercury in the filters reported that the levels are "very much higher" than normal.

Interestingly, it was the Lichen in Kodaikanal, used in the Greenpeace investigation as a bio-monitor of mercury, that had sparked off the DAE investigation as well. Some lichens purchased by their laboratory from the Hyderabad market, on analysis, showed high amounts of mercury and the scientists, curious to find out where the lichens came from, tracked their origin to a place near the thermometer factory in Kodaikanal.

They found mercury in moss and lichen collected from 12 different locations. The levels varied from a high of 8mg/kg around the factory to about 0.2 mg/kg in samples collected from near a lake 20 km from the factory.

While the scientists were able to completely recover the mercury from the charcoal filters, they could not recover it from the plant samples. They say this could be due to possible conversion of elemental mercury into irrecoverable (inorganic) form by the lichens. According to Arunachalam, the inorganic form of mercury is a slow killer and poses a greater danger as it can keep accumulating in the body unlike elemental mercury that can be removed.

Greenpeace campaigner Ameer Shahul says, "Now that even a government-owned laboratory has confirmed what we've been pointing out all along, it's high time that Hindustan Lever owns up to its responsibility for having contaminated the pristine Pambar Shola forest, and accepts its pending liabilities in Kodaikanal."