8 Oct 2007

Calling Erin Brokovich..

According to this article on TOI, two places in India have had the shameful distinction of featuring in the list of "Worlds Worst Polluted places" compiled by the Blacksmith Institute. They are Sukinda (Orissa) and Vapi (Gujarat). According to TOI, these places didn't figure in the last years report.

According to the report, Orissa contains 97% of India's chromite ore deposits. A large number of these mines in Sukinda operate without any kind of environmental plans, producing over 30 million tons of waste rocks which are spread in the surrounding area - more particularly over the riverbanks of the Brahmani river. According to the report

Approximately 70% of the surface water and 60% of the drinking water contains hexavalent chromium at more than double national and international standards and levels of over 20 times the standard have been recorded.
According to wikipedia, hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen (or a substance responsible for producing cancer) and effects via breathing. The substance is also known to cause "massive" damage to the human DNA. This means it doesn't stop at the infected person but goes on damage his/her future generations.

The report goes on to quote the Orissa Governments take on the situation:
"It is unique, it is gigantic and it is beyond the means and purview of the [Orissa Pollution Control] Board to solve the problem."
Try quoting this to someone who's effected by the substance!

My blogpost is so titled because Erin Brockovich was someone who was instrumental is winning a $333 million case for the residents of Hinkley (US) against Pacific Gas & Electric. The case was against contamination of drinking water with (surprise!) .. hexavalent chromium. Her complete story can be viewed in the famous Julia Roberts starrer movie with the same name or her official biography.

With the Bramhani river being the only source of water for the residents of Sukinda, etc one can only guess the amount of health damage being sustained by these folks. Imagine having to drink water coming out of a place thats similar to the one shown in the adjoining photo (source: blacksmithinstitute.org). With the mines being an important source of livelyhood, the residents have but no choice.

As for Vapi, Gujarat is a state thats all too familiar with environmental catastrophes. First it was Asbestos poisoning in the ship-breakage yards of Alang, which was surprisingly okayed by the Supreme court because it generates employment! With Vapi it is chemical by-products disposal. According to the report, the ground water in Vapi is reported to have more that 60 times the WHO recommended amount of mercury!

Try drinking a bottle of water that looks like the one shown in the picture (source: blacksmithinstitute.org) and you will only begin to get the idea!

It's a shame that one of the worlds fastest growing economy can do so little to protect the interest its people at the grassroots.

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