Environment Minister Anil Dave: Ensure a world-class cleanup for Kodaikanal

UPDATE: This campaign is no longer active. For reference, you can find the content of the email that Jhatkaa.org members sent below.

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*UPDATE* – Over the past week we’ve sent nearly 14,000 emails to India’s Environment Ministry demanding a thorough cleanup of Unilever’s mercury mess in Kodaikanal. Help keep the momentum going and let’s send a strong message to Environment Minister Anil Dave.

Unilever must not be allowed to get away with a lax cleanup that keeps a lot of toxic mercury in the soil, where it will continue to poison plants, water, fish, and people.

Use the email tool below to email Environment Minister Anil Dave directly.

Honourable Minister Anil Dave:

We learnt with shock that Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has endorsed Hindustan Unilever’s proposal to clean the mercury contamination in Kodaikanal to a substandard level of 20 mg/kg. That means that even after clean-up, 20 mg of mercury will be allowed to remain in each kg of soil. This, they claim, is safe for residential users. We are shocked for two reasons:

First, the site is located in an ecologically sensitive area and clean-up should ideally be conducted so that any remaining mercury does not exceed that naturally-occurring levels.

Second, in the United Kingdom where Unilever is headquartered, soils containing 20 mg/kg would be considered too dangerous for residential users. The soil guideline value for residential areas in the UK is 1 mg/kg – 20 times more stringent than what Unilever has proposed for India.

This is plainly a double standard and NOT a safe standard.

Further, the CPCB’s endorsement is admittedly unscientific and fails to follow any established procedure. In response to an RTI, CPCB has admitted that the “CPCB has not conducted any meeting with stakeholders for fixing of standards for cleanup of contaminated sites at Kodaikanal. Further, CPCB has not sought participation of scientist, scientific bodies and members of TNPCB (Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board) to advice on clean-up process.”

In January 2016, the CPCB brought out clear Guidelines on fixing liabilities for remediation of mercury-contaminated sites. These guidelines, if implemented, would help us enforce a world-class clean-up.

We urge you to condemn Unilever’s double standards and extend your cooperation to the Government of Tamil Nadu and Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board so that the Kodaikanal site is cleaned up to the highest standards.

Unilever’s mercury thermometer factory has been contaminating Kodaikanal, India for the past 15 years. In March of 2016, the company gave just compensation to its ex-workers, many of whom had been devastated by mercury poisoning.

Now the residents of Kodaikanal want Unilever to clean up its mercury mess to high, scientific standards. Instead, the company has currently proposed standards that are TWENTY times weaker than what would be allowed in the United Kingdom, where Unilever is headquartered (1).

This is plainly a double standard. India and the town of Kodaikanal deserve better.

Unilever will do a thorough cleanup of its mercury contamination if the government makes them. Email new Environment Minister Anil Dave today, and ask him to ensure a world-class cleanup in Kodaikanal.

Let’s take a moment to recall the history of this campaign:

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) owns a mercury thermometer factory in South India which it was forced to shut down in 2001. It came out that many of HUL’s workers had been exposed to toxic mercury, weren’t provided with adequate protective gear, and that 30 ex-workers and 15 children have died. Mercury is very toxic to babies and young children and is known to cause deformities.

While this reality remained, HUL did nothing to compensate workers or give them justice for 14 long years. But then last year we launched a viral music video and online petition that changed the entire landscape. We got Unilever to stand up and take notice; and Unilever CEO Paul Polman responded promising quick resolution. And this year, 591 ex-workers signed agreements with HUL guaranteeing them fair compensation.

This victory was made possible because of people like you! People who heard about this campaign either online or on the news; and then made the decision to add your voice to the growing chorus calling for justice.

So please join us in emailing new Environment Minister Anil Dave. Ask him to stand up for safe standards NOT double standards.

Sources:

1) Soil Guidelines values for mercury in soil