Pollution in eloor

Pollution in eloor

ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION Environmental pollution is the addition of any substance or form of energy (e.g., heat, sound, radioactivity) to the environment at a rate faster than the environment can accommodate it by dispersion, breakdown, recycling, or storage in some harmless form. A pollutant need not be harmful in itself. Carbon dioxide, for example, is a normal component of the atmosphere and a by-product of respiration that is found in all animal tissues; yet in a concentrated form it can kill animals. Human sewage can be a useful fertilizer, but when concentrated too highly it becomes a serious pollutant, menacing health and causing the depletion of oxygen in bodies of water. By contrast, radioactivity in any quantity is harmful to life, despite the fact that it occurs normally in the environment as so-called background radiation.

Pollution has accompanied mankind ever since groups of people first congregated and remained for a long time in any one place. Primitive human settlements can be recognized by their pollutants shell mounds and rubble heaps. But pollution was not a serious problem as long as there was enough space available for each individual or group. With the establishment of permanent human settlements by great numbers of people, however, pollution became a problem and has remained one ever since. Cities of ancient times were often noxious places, fouled by human wastes and debris. In the middle Ages, unsanitary urban conditions favoured the outbreak of population-decimating epidemics.

During the 19th century, water and air pollution and the accumulation of solid wastes were largely the problems of only a few large cities. But, with the rise of advanced technology and with the rapid spread of industrialization and the concomitant increase in human populations to unprecedented levels, pollution has become a universal problem .The various kinds of pollution are most conveniently considered under three headings: air, water, and land.


The scope of the chemical industry is in part shaped by custom rather than by logic. The petroleum industry is usually thought of as separate from the chemical industry, for in the early days of the petroleum industry in the 19th century crude oil was merely subjected to a simple distillation treatment. Modern petroleum industrial processes, however, bring about chemical changes, and some of the products of a modern refinery complex are chemicals by any definition. The term petrochemical is used to describe these chemical operations, but, because they are often carried out at the same plant as the primary distillation, the distinction between petroleum industry and chemical industry is difficult to maintain. Metals in a sense are chemicals because they are produced by chemical means, the ores sometimes requiring chemical methods of dressing before refining; the refining process also involves chemical reactions. Such metals as steel, lead, copper, and zinc are produced in reasonably pure form and are later fabricated into useful shapes. Yet the steel industry, for example, is not considered a part of the chemical industry. In modern metallurgy, such metals as titanium, tantalum, and tungsten are produced by processes involving great chemical skill, yet they are still classified, as primary metals .The boundaries of the chemical industry, then, are somewhat confused. Its main raw materials are the fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), air, water, salt, limestone, sulfur or an equivalent, and some specialized raw materials for special products, such as phosphates and the mineral fluorspar.

The chemical industry converts these raw materials into primary, secondary, and tertiary products, a distinction based on the remoteness of the product from the consumer, the primary being remotest. The products are most often end products only as regards the chemical industry itself; a chief characteristic of the chemical industry is that its products nearly always require further processing before reaching the ultimate consumer. Thus, paradoxically, the chemical industry is its own best customer. An average chemical product is passed from factory to factory several times before it emerges from the chemical industry into the market.

There are many routes to the same product and many uses for the same product. The largest use for ethylene glycol, for example, is as an automobile antifreeze, but it is also used as a hydraulic brake fluid. Further processing leads to many derivatives that are used as additives in the textile, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries; as emulsifiers in the application of insecticides and fungicides; and as demulsifiers for petroleum. The fundamental chemicals, such as chlorine or sulfuric acid, are used in so many ways as to defy a comprehensive listing. Because of the competitiveness within the chemical industry and among the chemicals, the chemical industry spends large amounts on research, particularly in the highly industrialized countries. The percentage of revenue spent on research varies from one branch to another; companies specializing in large-volume products that have been widely used for many years spend less, whereas competition in the newer fields can be met only by intensive research effort.


Among the most serious chemical pollutants are the chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides, such as DDT, aldrin, and dieldrin; the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are used in a variety of industrial processes and in the manufacture of many kinds of materials; and such metals as mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and beryllium. All of these substances persist in the environment, being slowly, if at all, degraded by natural processes; in addition, all are toxic to life if they accumulate in any appreciable quantity.

The persistent pesticides have created serious ecological problems. As they move through successively higher organisms in food chains, they accumulate in increasingly concentrated forms at each level, causing damaging effects to the predators at the end of the chains--i.e., they are present in low quantities in simple organisms but become more concentrated as these organisms are consumed by more complex ones, which are themselves consumed by predators. Among the species known to be adversely affected are such meat-eating birds as falcons, hawks, and eagles and such fish-eating birds as pelicans, petrels, cormorants, and egrets.

The reproduction capacity of all of these birds has been affected by an accumulation of DDT or a similar compound in their tissues. This is manifested by an impairment in the ability of the females to form eggshells properly. As a result, some species lay soft-shelled or shell-less eggs that cannot be hatched, and there has been a general decline in the numbers of these birds in Europe, Japan, and North America. Although the effects of the same chemicals on mammals is less obvious and still a matter for investigation, some studies suggest that DDT can reduce the productivity of plant plankton, upon which all other marine life depends. There also is substantial evidence that pesticides lose the ability to control the pests they were designed to kill. Many insect species have developed immunity to a wide range of synthetic pesticides, and the resistance is inherited by their offspring. Furthermore, it has been observed that repeated use of such chemicals creates pest populations in areas in which none previously existed. This happens because the pesticides destroy populations of carnivorous, predatory insects that had in the past kept the plant-eating insects in check.

Among other materials that are harmful to most forms of life are such metals as mercury, lead, and arsenic. The increasing release of these substances into the biosphere by industrial processes has created conditions that are now generally viewed as harmful to human welfare. Studies have been conducted on metallic pollutants to determine the normal environmental levels, the levels that are toxic to humans, and the extent to which industrial processes are responsible for the problem. The ultimate control of pollution will presumably involve the decision not to allow the escape into the environment of the substances that are harmful to life, the decision to contain and recycle those substances that could be harmful if released into the environment in excessive quantities, and the decision not to release into the environment substances that persist and are toxic to living things. Essentially, therefore, pollution control does not mean an abandonment of existing productive human activities but their reordering so as to guarantee that their side effects do not outweigh their advantages.


Eloor is an island on the Periyar river, the largest river in Kerala State, near the industrial city of Kochi (southwest coast of India), 17km from the Arabian Sea. With an area of 11.21 sq. km. it is also known as Udyogamandal, its claim to fame being nearly 247 chemical factories that actively operate here. The drive into Eloor brings all notions of being in God’s Own Country come crashing. Eloor supports the largest industrial belt in Kerala, with over 247 factories. These factories make a range of chemicals from petrochemical products, pesticides, rare earth elements, rubber processing chemicals, fertilizers to zinc/chrome and leather products. Eloor's economy historically centered around fishing, supplemented by agriculture. The Periyar River has been the primary source of food and drinking water, and the source for all household and communal town activities that rely on water, including laundry, bathing, etc. The middle of the 20th century saw Eloor's expansion into an industrial hub. Two hundred and forty-seven primarily chemical factories known as the Udyogamandal Industrial Estate actively operate on this island. The Eloor-Edayar region, about 20 km from where the river meets the Arabian Sea, is the industrial hub of Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala and is home to Kerala’s largest industrial cluster, the Udyogamandal Industrial Estate. There are about 250 industries including the prominent ones like Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd. (FACT), Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL), Indian Rare Earths Ltd etc., mainly chemical ones, in this small area. They manufacture a range of chemicals--petrochemical products, pesticides, rare-earth elements, rubber processing chemicals, fertilizers, zinc/chrome products and leather products. Many of these industries are 50 years old and employ highly polluting technologies.


1. Water/Food: Through severe pollution of the Periyar River. The industries rely on the fresh water of the Periyar for operation, and return untreated or mildly treated toxic effluent. At least 30 of the nearly 300 industries dump untreated waste directly into the river through unauthorized pipes. While the village fish supply had been contaminated over the years, it is now virtually extinct.2. Soil/Food: Paddy fields in the area are nourished by industrial effluent. What's left of these crops is contaminated, though at this point fields are virtually barren. In 1956 the notorious Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL) began manufacturing a variety of pesticides, including DDT and Endosulfan. While both of these pesticides have been banned around the world, HIL remains one of the few companies that continues to produce them even today. In addition to pesticides, this and many other companies produce petrochemicals, rubber processing chemicals, fertilizers, zinc/chrome products and leather products. Most operate using the same technology as they did in the 50's, and accidents have been reported. HIL's Endosulfan plant, for example, recently caught fire.Human Exposure & Health Impact Number of Potentially Affected People: 30,092 (Population of Eloor)

POLLUTING FACTORIES ON THE BANK OF PERIYAR Ali Raj is one of the hundreds of fishermen rendered jobless due the heavy industrial pollution of the Periyar, the largest river in Kerala. The industries take large amounts of fresh water from the Periyar and in turn discharge concentrated toxic effluents after little treatment. This has led to large-scale destruction of fish in the river and has done extensive damage to the paddy fields and other farmlands in the region. Studies reveal that toxic pollution of the river has almost wiped out the traditional occupations including fishing and farming. “ I used to get Rs 800-900 a day until some years ago. The catch has been reduced over the years. Now, I get only Rs 50 a day. How can a family of five live with this?” asks 53-year-old fisherman Mahi, a resident of Eloor panchayat. Often massive fish kills occur in the river due to high concentration of pollutants. There are more than 30 unauthorized effluents pipes spewing toxins straight into the river from the industry. Air emissions range from acid mists to sulphur dioxide, hydrogen Sulphide, Ammonia and Chlorine gas. Wells and ponds in the region are severely contaminated. “We used to take water from the river for drinking, bathing and washing. But now we are scared even to touch that water. We all depend on the piped water supply for everything,’’ says Radhika, a resident of the ward one in the panchayat. Greenpeace, an international NGO campaigning against environmental destruction, has identified Eloor as one of the toxic hotspots in the world. A study conducted by Green peace on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Bhopal Tragedy revealed the extent to which the Periyar and the nearby water and soil resources in and around the industrial area have been contaminated, leading to increased incidence of deaths and diseases among the 30,000 people living in the area. The study points out that the Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL), a Government of India enterprise, has been manufacturing pesticides including DDT and Endosulfan (both banned) at its Eloor plant since 1956. The plant located adjacent to a wetland apparently discharges its effluents to an open creek . “Persistent Organic Pollutants like DDT and related compounds are of particular environmental concern because not only are they toxic but they are also highly resistant to degradation and are liable to bioaccumulate,” points out Sanjiv Gopal, Toxic Campaigner, Greenpeace India. “DDT is the most notorious of the 12 chlorinated chemicals identified for total elimination by the Stockholm Convention. HIL is one of the few remaining DDT producing factories in the world.” Sediments collected from HIL site, also contained high levels of heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury and zinc. “We are watching our river die. We’re all like the prople waiting pensively by the death-bed of a loved one. The state, which has all the powers to save the river, is indifferent. People have lost faith in the system,” says V J Jose, the Periyar River Keeper appointed by Greenpeace India to monitor the quality of water in the Periyar. While the environmental activists in Eloor allege that the State Pollution Control Board is entirely ineffective in controlling pollution if not preventing it, the Board claims that it has been taking actions against pollution since its inception in 1974, and now majority of the companies adhere to environmental standards on effluents discharge. The Board officials point out that around 70 cases have been lodged against different factories in the last two decades. “The Board has succeeded in making most of the factories install effluents treatment plants,” says Paul Thachil, chairman, KSPCB. “The river is more polluted by sewage more than the effluents from the industry.” He also says the regional office of KSPCB in Kochi has been authorised to regularly monitor the water quality of the river near the industrial estate.

POLLUTION IN THE RIVER A water sample from a creek which receives effluent from one of the major pesticide companies “contained more than 100 organic compounds, 39 of which were organochlorines, including DDT and its metabolites, endosulfan and several isomers of hexa-chloro-cyclo-hexane (HCH). DDT and its metabolites were also detectable in the wetlands surrounding the industrial estate.” “Sediments collected from this particular site also contained high levels of heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury and zinc.” “Air emissions range from acid mists to sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia and chlorine gas.In 1999, Greenpeace India did a sampling study of Eloor and found 111 different chemicals in Kuzhikandum Thodu, a creek into which HIL, Merchem and other units discharge their effluents. Of these 111, there were as many as 39 persistent organic pollutants (POP). POPs are chemicals resistant to natural breakdown processes and are therefore long-living toxinsThough factories in Eloor have regulated the discharge of effluents into the Periyar, the residents allege that the factories use the cover of darkness to release air pollutants and continue to store hazardous wastes within factory premises Earlier, a Greenpeace study had established that with most of the fertilizer, insecticide and chemical manufacturing plants in the Eloor Edayar region dumping toxic waste into the Periyar, the incidence of almost all diseases, whether respiratory, dermatological or mental, was “two to five times higher in the region” compared to the less-polluted Pindimana village in the same district. Due to the presence of waste, the temperature of the river had risen abnormally and the water contained high concentrations of organochlorines including DDT and its metabolites, endosulfan, cyanide, BHC and heavy metals including mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium and zinc.

But the environmental activists in Eloor term PCB’s claim a sheer lie. They point out that in a combined survey conducted by the PCB and the Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithy, a group of people agitating against pollution of the Periyar, as many as 30 unauthorised effluents outlets were identified in the Udyogamandal area. “But not even a single outlet has been removed so far,” says Purushan Eloor, a staunch environmental activist. He also points out that though the Eloor Gram Panchayat had cancelled the license of Merchem company in 1998, it’s still functioning with the consent of the PCB. “When the committee on environment appointed by the state assembly visited Eloor in January to look into the pollution issue, the PCB had promised to formulate a Master Plan foe preventing the pollution in the Periyar within one month,” says Purushan. “ But nothing has been done so far.” The Comptroller And Auditor General’s Report (for the year ended 31 March 2000) on the performance of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) strongly condemns the Board for not taking proper actions to prevent the pollution. The report highlights that enforcement of statutory provisions of the Acts/Rules for protection of environment, control of pollution and improvement of water quality, had been ineffective due to several factors like PCB’s reluctance to invoke the legal provisions of the Acts, lack of monitoring and supervision, failure to conduct comprehensive surveys of polluting units in the state, absence of co-ordination between the Board and the licence granting authorities (panchayats) and lack of adequate manpower and laboratory facilities. The report points out the failure of the PCB to conduct comprehensive survey of industries in the state. The PCB has to give a letter of consent to each industry, fixing the technical parameters and the quantity of water it can take and discharge for pollution control. But out of a total number of 2.17 lakh industries registered, the PCB has identified only 2250 as highly polluting units and issued letters of consent (official permission) to 1383 units (61 per cent). The others function without permission. The report also notes a huge shortfall in inspection of industrial units for monitoring effluent standards, also observing that the PCB failed to take effective follow-up action even in cases of complaints received from people regarding discharge of untreated effluents, contamination of groundwater etc. The PCB has ignored its own test results of water samples taken from the Periyar following two massive episodes of fish deaths in July 1998. Analysis of water samples by the PCB from 12 points in the river found concentration of ammoniacal nitrogen at 12 to 24 mg/litre as against permissible limit of zero. In 2001 people took direct action against the industries by blocking a stream into which effluents are dumped. The companies have ever since been forced to enter into a dialogue with the panchayat and the people to come up with a plan to clean up the toxic mess along the stream. But they have failed to come up with a safe and effective plan for doing so. The plan proposed by the industries and the panchayat involves dredging the sludge and dumping it in a nearby wetland. The people rejected the proposed toxic dumping plan of the panchayat, as it would permanently destroy the water table. It seems the government is finding it difficult to act on some of the important recommendations by Greenpeace and the Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithy on the basis of scientific studies. The PCB had ruled out recommendation for zero discharge into the river. “We have never demanded closure of the factories. What we want is clean production at Eloor-Edayar and compensation/medical rehabilitation of all the people affected . An environment impact assessment study has to be done immediately and a chemical disaster management plan for Ernakulam district should be formulated urgently.” Says Purushan. The State Fisheries Department recently ordered a probe by the PCB to find out those responsible for polluting the rivers in Ernakulam district. Interestingly it has apparently ignored the report of the Greenpeace submitted to the State Health Department last September listing industrial units responsible for increasing toxicity in the Periyar. It’s high time the state woke up from its slumber and took immediate action. As Manu Gopalan, a former campaigner with Greenpeace India puts it “A poisoned river means a dying people.” .IMPACT ON HUMAN HEALTH

The study “Status of Human Health at Eloor Industrial Estate, Kerala”, points out that in comparison to the less polluted Pindimana village on the banks of the same river in the same district, the chances that residents of Eloor Gram Panchayat will contract Cancer are 2.85 times higher. Children are 2.63 times at higher risk of malformation due to congenital and Chromosomal aberrations. Chances that children may die due to birth defects have increased 3.8 times higher. Death due to Bronchitis at Eloor is up by 3.4 times. Deaths due to Asthma are up by 2.2 times. There is a 3 times greater chance (when compared to a pollution-free place) that you will suffer from mental and behavioral problems. Saying that the waterways Eloor, the Periyar River and the adjoining villages are under the serious threat from Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. The study says that cleaning up the Periyar river and the waterways is the only means to save the people of Eloor from a disaster."A poisoned river means a dying population," it addedA study conducted by Green peace on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Bhopal Tragedy revealed the extent to which the Periyar and the nearby water and soil resources in and around the industrial area have been contaminated, leading to increased incidence of deaths and diseases among the 30,000 people living in the area. A study conducted among the residents of Eloor gram panchayats shows the presence of dioxins in the food chain.Dioxins and furans are chemicals that are life-threatening. In 1999, Greenpeace India did a sampling study of Eloor and found 111 different chemicals in Kuzhikandum Thodu, a creek into which HIL, Merchem and other units discharge their effluents. Of these 111, there were as many as 39 persistent organic pollutants (POP). POPs are chemicals resistant to natural breakdown processes and are therefore long-living toxins. They build up in the fatty tissues of animals and humans, and might even cause severe health impacts like hormonal disruptions, loss of fertility and cancer. Though factories in Eloor have regulated the discharge of effluents into the Periyar, the residents allege that the factories use the cover of darkness to release air pollutants and continue to store hazardous wastes within factory premises. They talk of nights when the stench of chemicals is so strong that breathing becomes difficult. No wonder many people living in the island suffer from respiratory diseases.

MA Subramaniam, 53, complains of severe asthma and headache and attributes it to the heavy discharge of poisonous smoke from the factories. “My family lives on medicines,” he says. KK Sasi, 45, an asthma patient, says that for the past eight years he has been using Asthalin to check asthma attacks. “I am panic-stricken if I ever step out of the house without Asthalin,” he says. Kunjappan, 60, whose house is near a polluted, orange-coloured paddy field, is a victim of continuous exposure to Jarosite effluent of Binani Zinc Ltd. “I used to take cattle out for grazing, but now I can’t even take a few steps because of the swelling on my legs,” he says. Recognising heavy pollution caused by this company, the SCMC directed the state government to ensure that “Binani Zinc supplies water through pipeline to the residences of all the affected communities in the vicinity of the unit”.

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