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Tests Confirm Toxicity In Sludge
From Coke Plant

By P. Venugopal

The Hindu, India
07 August, 2003

Tests conducted by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) have confirmed recent media reports about the toxic nature of the sludge generated by Coca-Cola's bottling plant at Plachimada, in Kerala's Palakkad district.

The KSPCB undertook the tests following a report put out by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) last month that the sludge and drinking water samples collected from Plachimada contained "dangerous" levels of cadmium, a known carcinogen, besides lead, which can damage the human central nervous system.

Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited had been distributing the sludge to the farmers of the area free of cost to be used as fertilizer, terming it a "humanitarian gesture to the local community". Thousands of tonnes of this waste material were off-loaded in the fields of the region over the last three years.Announcing the results of the analysis at a press conference here today, the Chairman of the KSPCB, Paul Thachil, said that the concentration of cadmium was found to be 201.8 mg in a kg of dry sludge.

This level is, in fact, far greater than that reported by the BBC after tests done at Exeter University in the United Kingdom. These tests had shown the concentration of cadmium as 100 mg a kg of dry sludge."A solid is classified as hazardous material if it contains over 50 mg of cadmium a kg. There is no doubt that the sludge is extremely hazardous. We have ordered the company to stop supplying it as manure to the farmers," Mr. Thachil said.

He said that in the analysis done at the KSPCB's Central Laboratory in Ernakulam, the presence of lead was found to be below the threshold limit. Lead concentration was found to be 319 mg a kg of dry sludge against a threshold level of 500 mg a kg as per standards prescribed in India.

The tests conducted at Exeter University had shown a lead concentration of 1,100 mg a kg."Results can vary from sample to sample. But the important point is that we have proof about the hazardous nature of the waste material. We have ordered the company to keep the sludge in leech-free tanks so that it does not contaminate the soil and water sources in the area. There should be a mechanism for proper disposal of this highly hazardous material," Mr. Thachil said.

Asked what the KSPCB proposed to do in the light of its findings, Mr. Thachil said: "We have already got the company to stop the dangerous practice of distributing the toxic sludge to the farmers.

A detailed probe is on to determine the source of the cadmium contamination."

He said the Health Department had been alerted about the findings. "We have subsequently collected water samples from the open wells in the colonies adjoining the bottling plant for analysis. The results are awaited. The question whether the soft drinks manufactured at the bottling plant are safe does not come under our purview. It is to be looked into by the Health Department," he said.

The bottling plant has been in the eye of a storm following complaints that it was exploiting the scarce water in the area, extracting it through borewells and open wells, leading to the depletion of the water table.The local panchayat recently withdrew permission for the plant to operate there.There have been complaints about contamination of well water in the area, but the company has stridently denied this.

Greenpeace demands action

Meanwhile, the global environmental action group, Greenpeace, asked the Kerala Government to direct Coca-Cola to collect back the entire hazardous waste it had distributed. It should be stored with proper precautions, the corporate campaign coordinator of Greenpeace, Ameer Shahul, said in a statement faxed to Thiruvananthapuram . No longer should the unsuspecting people of the region be exposed to the dangers of this waste, he added.Mr. Shahul said the Government should persuade the company to dispose of the sludge in a safe manner. "Coca-Cola has no right to defile this beautiful land with its hazardous waste.

The company should be forced to ship the sludge back to the U.S., its home country", he said.He urged the Government to convene a meeting of the affected people, representatives of non-governmental organisations and officials of the KSPCB and departments such as Health and Local Administration in order to formulate a plan to tackle the damage the company had done to the region.