By Global Community Monitor
Samples of air that SIPCOT residents breathe were
found to contain extremely high levels of at least 22 toxic chemicals,
including 8 cancer-causing chemicals, according to a first of
a kind report released by SIPCOT Area Community Environmental
Monitors. Based on the results, the group has declared SIPCOT,
Cuddalore a "Global Toxic Hotspot."
For the first time in India, the air that people
living near industries breathe has been tested for toxic gases,
such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and sulphur compounds.
The results of five samples taken outside Shasun, Tagros, CUSECS
5 and Asian Paints confirm the worst fears of the villagers that
the frequent odour incidents they experience are indicators of
chemical pollution from the factories. At least 13 chemicals found
are used as raw material in SIPCOT industries.
The report justifies the SIPCOT villagers’
demands for continuous air monitoring, including for toxic gases,
an aggressive air pollution elimination program, long-term health
monitoring, specialised health care facilities for SIPCOT residents,
and a ban on the setting up or expansion of any polluting facility
The report titled "Gas Trouble: Air Quality
in SIPCOT, Cuddalore" was compiled using samples taken by
Community Environmental Monitors from Semmankuppam, Sangolikuppam
and Eachangadu villages. The monitors are specially trained in
the use of the "Bucket" to take air samples, and in
monitoring, reporting and acting on pollution or occupational
injury incidents. The training in "Bucket" technology
was conducted in March 2004 by Denny Larson of Global Community
Monitor. Larson is one of the key persons involved in developing
and testing the bucket.
"The Bucket results confirm that SIPCOT is
a slow-motion Bhopal. For years, the Pollution Control Board and
the Tamilnadu Government have ignored our complaints about nasty
odours and our health problems," said S. Ramanathan, a Community
Environmental Monitor from Semmankuppam village. "If the
Government fails to do anything even after finding out that the
air we breathe has chemicals like benzene, carbon tetrachloride
and chloroform, they will be telling the world that they don’t
care if we live or die as long as the industries can operate profitably."
At least 14 of the 22 chemicals, including trichloroethene,
carbon tetrachloride, acrolein, methylene chloride and hydrogen
sulphide, violate the US Environmental Protection Agency’s
safety levels. 1,2-dichloroethane, a cancer-causing chemical that
was found in an air sample taken downwind of Tagros Chemicals,
exceeded safety levels by a factor of 22,973. Levels of hydrogen
sulphide, a gas that smells of rotten eggs, in the air sample
taken downwind of CUSECS Pump House No. 5 was 874 times the US
EPA safety level.
"I have worked nine years with the bucket
and seen at least 500 results from different places around the
world. SIPCOT, Cuddalore has to be the worst place to breathe,
and certainly the worst that I have seen in terms of the kinds
and levels of toxic gases in the air," said Larson. "The
levels of some of the chemicals are at least 1000 times higher
than what we saw in other developing countries like South Africa,
Thailand and the Philippines."
Despite the magnitude of the problem, not a single
health study has been conducted till date in SIPCOT, Cuddalore.
The Pollution Control Board does not monitor for toxic gases in
the industrial estate, and what basic data it has on air pollution
has never been released to public.
The findings of the report have very troubling
implications particularly for women, children and old people who
spend all their time within the polluted confines of SIPCOT.
"Children, foetuses and pregnant women are
most at risk of exposure. These chemicals can attack children
at a very vulnerable stage of development and may, in cases, permanently
damage their ability to fight diseases or their mental, physical
and sexual development," said Shweta Narayan, coordinator
of the Community Environmental Monitoring program.
Despite the demonstrated lack of capacity of the
Pollution Control Board or the Health Department to understand
the pollution problem and take action to protect public health,
the Government is adding to the pollution load in SIPCOT by allowing
more polluting units to come up.
Villagers from Semmankuppam and Sangolikuppam are
very unhappy about the setting up of a new company, Pandian Chemicals,
in SIPCOT Phase II. The company plans to manufacture 38 tonnes/month
of Ammonium Perchlorate, a highly explosive chemical used in rocket
fuel. The chemical is a problematic groundwater contaminant that
is dangerous even at low levels to foetuses, young children and
pregnant women. It can be passed on from mother to child through
breast milk, and is known to attack the brain development of the
"The people don’t want Pandian Chemicals;
the Panchayat doesn’t want it. The company manufactures
a deadly explosive, and a chemical that is known to affect children’s
health. If the Government cares for people, the project should
be dropped. Only clean industries that can provide safe jobs to
villagers should be allowed in SIPCOT," said M. Nizamudeen
SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitoring
is a project of FEDCOT, Cuddalore District Consumer Organisation,
Global Community Monitor and The Other Media.