India: Hindustan Unilever to proceed with mercury remediation plans at former factory site, activists oppose approved targets

HUL Thermometer Factory in Kodaikanal, India [credit_The Hindu]

Between August and November 2017, Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL) conducted soil remediation trials at the site of its form thermometer factory in Kondaikanal, India. The trials were intended to address mercury contamination dating back to 2001. In January 2018, environmentalists raised concerns that the trial failed to meet remediation targets and may have released more mercury into the evironment. HUL denied the allegations, stating that applicable standards were achieved in cooperation with the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the Scientific Experts Committe (SEC) (a body create by a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee). 

In November 2018, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) approved the continuation of the remediation process at a target mercury level of 20mg/kg. Environmental activists previously opposed this level, demanding a target of 6.6mg/kg.

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Article
20 January 2019

India: Hindustan Unilever Information Note on soil remediation at former thermometer factory in Kodaikanal

Author: Hindustan Unilever (HUL)

"Information Note: Soil remediation at our former thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, India", 5 December 2018

The issue of ensuring that the contaminated soil at our former thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, India is remediated to an optimal standard, is a complex one. There have been many claims made concerning the standards that should be applied to the remediation work. Many of these claims have been misleading and have created confusion...

On June 11, 2018, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) received permission from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to commence full scale soil remediation to the remedial standard of 20mg/kg at its former factory site in Kodaikanal. Following this, some of the activists approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) contesting the soil remediation standard of 20 mg/kg. The NGT directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to obtain an expert opinion on whether the Site-Specific Target Level of 20 mg/kg is the right remediation standard. On November 1, 2018, the Principal Bench of the NGT, Delhi cleared the way for soil remediation at HUL’s former factory in Kodaikanal. The NGT has now reaffirmed the soil remediation standard of 20 mg/kg...

HUL is committed to cleaning up the site to the optimal standard deemed appropriate for the site and approved by the regulatory authorities. TNPCB’s proposed 20mg/kg clean-up standard has also been approved by the CPCB [Central Pollution Control Board]. It has been determined following international best practice, using a site-specific risk assessment which will ensure that the land will be fully protective of human health and the environment. An arbitrarily imposed remediation standard – for example the 6.6 mg/kg standard currently proposed by some activists – would not be based on science and would also have significant detrimental impacts on the surrounding environment. Moreover, it would not be any more protective of human health and the environment than the site-specific and scientifically derived 20 mg/kg remediation standard that has been proposed and approved by the authorities...

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Article
15 January 2019

India: Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) failed to achieve even the ‘liberal’ 20 mg/kg mercury clean in Kodaikanal

Author: SV Krishna Chaitanya, The New Indian Express

"Unending fallout of defunct thermometer factory at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu", 17 January 2018

The three-month soil remediation trials carried out by Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) in the now-defunct thermometer factory at Kodaikanal failed to achieve even the ‘liberal’ 20 mg/kg mercury clean-up standard...Noted environmentalist...said a careful analysis of the information provided by HUL and TNPCB [Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board] reveals that the trial run was not merely a failure, but may have mobilised more mercury into environment than it recovered...

...Air quality data presented by TNPCB finds that air mercury levels in three out of five workspaces inside the factory exceeded the safe workplace mercury vapour levels of 0.05 mg/m3 prescribed in the Factories Act. The Soil Wash Area recorded a reading of 0.1 mg/m3 – two times higher than levels at which work has to be stopped...[A] bulk of the mercury has been transferred from the soil to the water medium, even as the Scientific Experts Committee and TNPCB have focused their attention only on retort.

In an e-mail response to Express, HUL spokesperson said the company has been able to achieve the soil remediation standard of 20 mg/kg as directed by TNPCB and said the argument that 20 mg/kg is a liberal standard was incorrect. “TNPCB and SEC with the help of leading scientific experts have arrived at the standard of 20 mg/kg. The clean-up process followed by HUL is based on best practices adopted globally...Scientific Experts panel has agreed Unilever to submit an up scaling plan for final remediation to 20 mg/kg ignoring the trial remediation failure.

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Article
15 January 2019

India: Mercury remediation level fixed for Hindustan Unilever factory in Kodaikanal

Author: T.K. Rohit, The Hindu, India

"Mercury remediation level fixed", 9 November 2018

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has given the go-ahead for Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) to carry out the mercury remediation at its Kodaikanal thermometer factory site, fixing the remediation level at 20mg/kg. Environmental activists had opposed this level of remediation and were demanding a level of 6.6 mg/kg.

In its order dated November 1, the principal bench of the tribunal...relied on the opinion of a committee of eight members constituted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)...The experts held two meetings...and considered the guidance document ‘Development of Methodologies for National Programme for Rehabilitation of Polluted Sites in India’ and applied the guidelines to the situation at Kodaikanal...

...[A] resident of Kodaikanal and member of the Local Area Environment Committee — who had moved the tribunal against the remediation standards proposed, had also moved the NGT in September after the expert committee was formed by the CPCB on the directions of the tribunal that four of them had conflict of interest. HUL had opposed this subsequently. In its order, the tribunal said it found no merit in these objections raised...

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Article
15 January 2019

India: Remediation trials for Hindustan Unilever's Kodaikanal factory a failure, say activists

Author: T.K. Rohit, The Hindu, India

"Kodaikanal remediation trials a failure, say activists", 12 July 2018

The remediation efforts undertaken at a site in Kodaikanal where Hindustan Unilever (HUL) once had its thermometer factory are once again embroiled in controversy with activists claiming that the process is a “failure”. However, the company has stoutly denied the charge.

A report by the Chennai Solidarity Group has urged the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to commission a fresh Detailed Project Report (DPR) to remediate the site....[It] alleges that remediation trials carried out between September and November 2017 “were a failure, and the reporting of the data from the trials is incomplete, inconsistent and unreliable.”

HUL...denied all the charges, and said:...the data was complete, reliable and verified by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute. The Chennai Solidarity Group also said that a mercury balance prepared by it while preparing the report, found that soil washing with water converts a soil mercury problem into a water mercury problem “with the associated and heightened risk...”...The company reiterated that the remediation work would be monitored by the Scientific Experts Committee (SEC), constituted by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee and the TNPCB.

The report further said that the TNPCB had authorised the company to demolish the buildings and decontaminate machinery without evaluation of the processes or their environmental impact...To this, HUL said the buildings in which mercury was used would be demolished. 

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